SHIELDS & GIGOT
SEPTEMBER 13, 1996
The NewsHour's regular political analysts, Mark Shields and Paul Gigot, are joined by pollster Andy Kohut and communications professor Kathleen Hall Jamieson to discuss the latest polls and political ads. The pundits also discuss Ross Perot's choice of a running mate and the state of the Dole campaign.
A RealAudio version of this NewsHour segment is available.
September 6, 1996
Shields & Gigot discuss last week's political events.
May 31, 1996
Margaret Warner discusses the latest round of political ads with Mark Shields and Paul Gigot.
Browse the NewsHour's regular Political Wrap-up of the past weeks' events or the coverage of the presidential campaign.
JIM LEHRER: Yes. Now, finally, all of this and other things look to Shields & Gigot, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. Paul, what--how--first on the--just on the ad question, what is your--how would you characterize them so far, adding or subtracting from things that Kathleen has just said? (editor's note: In the previous segment Kathleen Hall Jamieson compared the style of the Clinton and Dole presidential campaigns to those of Reagan and Mondale, respectively, in 1984.)
PAUL GIGOT, Wall Street Journal: Well, I donít agree with Kathleen and her comparison of this election and the strategy to 1984.I think what weíve seen so far, much closer to 1988, where the Republican, George Bush, who was not an incumbent, himself, but was familiar, tarred the opponent, Mike Dukakis, unacceptable, used all kinds of ads to say--starting later than the Clinton administration has this year--that said he is beyond the pale and you canít elect him. Uh, this year you see Bill Clinton, the incumbent doing that to Bob Dole. Starting in April, virtually unopposed, relentless attack ads--I called the Clinton campaign this week and got all 12 of their scripts of the ads the Clinton-Gore campaign has produced. Twelve of them--all twelve of them are negative attack ads, if you will. Eleven of them really go after Dole, and they are comparison ads often but they really do attack some element of the Dole record.
JIM LEHRER: Did you see anything in the scripts that you thought was incorrect or was unfair in the attacks on, on Dole?
PAUL GIGOT: I think technically itís all true. The Medicare business I think is particularly sneaky because if Bob Dole--if Bill Clinton is elected--heís going to cut Medicare--
JIM LEHRER: You mean--explain that. One of the ads--not one that we showed--but one of the ads--
PAUL GIGOT: Right.
JIM LEHRER: --suggest that Bob Dole is going to do something to Medicare if heís elected President and has voted to raise--you say it--
PAUL GIGOT: I think the word is slash.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Slash.
PAUL GIGOT: Slash Medicare.
JIM LEHRER: Okay.
PAUL GIGOT: And I think most people understand that even if Bill Clinton is elected, heís going to be cutting Medicare, slashing it, if you will, as Bob Dole has. I think thatís over the top. I also think that the family and medical leave ad that was shown, while technically correct, is nonetheless exploitive--exploitative emotionally. Maybe thatís what you want to do with an ad, but it suggests to me--itís trying to suggest to viewers that Dole is so uncompassionate that he would want businesses to prevent mothers and fathers from going home to take care of a dying child. Now, anybody who knows Bob Dole knows that isnít his character, number one, but number two, I know most companies in America wouldnít do that--would do that on their own; they would let the parent go, whether or not you had a family leave law.
JIM LEHRER: All right.
PAUL GIGOT: So--
JIM LEHRER: Mark--
PAUL GIGOT: --itís really hitting very hard.
JIM LEHRER: Uh, Mark, what do you think about these--just the issues that, that Paul has raised about the, the Clinton-Gore attacks on Dole-Kemp, or particularly Dole?
MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Well, I think first of all, Jim, I think you can make the case and Paul does that the message of the Clinton campaign through the television commercials has been strongly negative. Thereís no doubt about it. Itís sort of consistent with the lack of a broad vision, a compelling agenda for the second, second term. Weíve talked about that before, but I think itís stretching to call this an attack ad. I think I get the feeling that the Republicans are getting ready to go negative strongly on Bill Clinton for his first reason very simply is that the tax argument, the tax cut has not caught on, it hasnít moved, itís dropped. Itís dropped in popular support. Itís a little bit like a couple of kids on a long automobile trip in the back seat, and--but the Dole campaign is saying he hit me first because theyíre going to get ready to go on Bill Clinton. I think that, quite frankly, the first two years of the Clinton administration there are very few legislative achievements to boast about. There was the deficit reduction, tax increase, and there was family and medical leave, which had really been sort of a non-controversial item until Bob Dole raised it. I mean, itís Bob Dole who resurrected this issue. That was his gaff. He picked the pistol up, directed it at his own toe, and shot. And the Clinton campaign came back--
JIM LEHRER: He did that in a way that--in--throw-away comments--
MARK SHIELDS: At a throw-away comment, and the Clinton campaign and sort of rapid response, I thought, very effectively put their case forward and took what had been--this is an issue thatís already got 75 to 80 percent popular support, uh, and I, I have to disagree with Paul. I donít think itís exploitative. I think itís--I think itís a strong statement and it shows that a piece of legislation, federal regulation, whatever, had a real personal and touching human impact on, on the American workers for whom it was intended.
JIM LEHRER: Let me just ask Kathleen, based on making all the comparisons that you made earlier, just in general terms, as we sit here now, now as Mark says, there are all kinds of stories that the Dole folks are really going to go after Clinton now. They havenít done it yet, but as we speak here right now, how would you characterize the attack element to this campaign so far, the fairness, the dirtiness, any word you want to use?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON, University of Pennsylvania: First, the amount of pure attack in this campaign is very different from the past. Youíve got 55 percent of the Republican ads--thatís RNC plus Dole--since March 27th, purely attacking, no argument for Dole, just arguments against Clinton. None of the Democratic ads have done that during that time. They all have either made the case for Clinton and against Dole or made the case for Clinton. But 93 percent of Clintonís total, both attacks and advocates in the same ad, there is not a big difference in the amount of deception in the Republican and Democratic ads--they both have selective distortion; they donít tell you the whole story. Thatís typical of ads. And thereís a lot of careful wording so that things are literally true but inferentially false. There isnít a difference between the amount in the Democratic ads proportionately and the Republican ads.
JIM LEHRER: Paul, you expect it to get worse?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I think Markís right--
JIM LEHRER: Or better, depending on oneís point of view?
PAUL GIGOT: I think Markís right, that the Dole campaign is, is about to get a lot tougher on, on Bill Clinton. It really doesnít have much choice. But I think that itís significant that the Dole campaign--
JIM LEHRER: What do you mean it doesnít have much choice?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, itís got to--when youíre 15 points behind, youíve really got to draw some tough comparisons with the other guy. You canít just run soft bio spots, because if you do, you might get yourself up a little bit but youíre never going to get Bill Clinton below 52, 53 percent.
JIM LEHRER: So they--in order for Dole to rise, Clinton has got to be knocked down, President Clinton has got to be knocked down?
PAUL GIGOT: Yeah. I think itís significant and a bad sign for the Dole campaign that this late in the game theyíre running that bio spot. It means that--see, I--where I disagree with Kathleen is I think that whatís been happening for the last year, staring with the AFL-CIO ads, going back in September, uh, added to by the Democratic National Committee ads, and then April with the Clinton-Gore ads, youíve seen a kind of salt-the-soil strategy with the ads. Theyíve gone after Dole time and again saying--linking him to Gingrich, which is certainly fair game, but saying he is unacceptable on this score, this score, and this score. So that anything Dole does now is going to be in ground that wonít allow him to grow. And it was a calculated gamble to make--to use the money advantage that they had, playing fairly by the rules in the pre-primary season, and the post-primary season, the pre-convention season, and I think itís worked very well, and the question that the Dole campaign has to ask itself is, is it too late, can they come back right now and refurbish Doleís reputation enough. Thatís what theyíre trying to do with some of the bio spots.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah.
PAUL GIGOT: And then, and then also go after Clinton. JIM LEHRER: Mark, on the further question that Andy Kohut raised about--you heard what he said about the polls and his polls that he went through in detail, pretty much are the same for all the other major polls--how do you read those now? What would be your advice to the general electorate on how to read those polls?
MARK SHIELDS: Oh, I think Andy was absolutely right, that you have to wait an interim, uh, after the two conventions, because basically what you have is each party making its case uninterrupted and, and unresponded to by either other party--by the other party. So I think weíve had that time, and I think thatís where the race is. I think Paul is, is right, that the Dole folks have to start thinking in terms of theyíve got to change the national conversation of this race. Right now, if youíre working for Bob Dole, basically the question you get is what about those polls, the question you just gave us.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah.
MARK SHIELDS: And you just canít--you canít make any headway politically when youíre saying, well, let me tell you, the only poll that counts is the one on election day, or whatever other cliche you want to try and use.
JIM LEHRER: Mark, Dole and Kemp went to a rally, a kind of rally on the Hill today--this week on Wednesday, where they had the Republican members of the House and Senate trying to reassure them, and that was poll-driven, was it not? Hey, were not in as bad shape as the polls say, et cetera, et cetera.
MARK SHIELDS: That was an attempt to reassure--weíve seen it happen before--Fritz Mondale did it; George McGovern did it. Itís not--itís not uncommon. Not only losing candidates do it, but itís sort of to show the flag, to--in part, it--for a fellow like Bob Dole whoís been a figure on Capitol Hill and a respected, enormously respected figure there for 35 years, it is a little bit of a homecoming. Itís a sense of going back to where heís comfortable and where those who know him well, but, uh, the problem you can see right now, itís starting--Iíve heard it in Ohio this past couple of days from Republicans, is, well, weíve got to make the argument that we canít have Dick Gephardt as speaker, we canít have Charlie Rangel, a Democrat from New York as chairman of the Ways & Committee, we canít have Dave Obey of Wisconsin as chairman of the, of the House Appropriations Committee, weíve got to stop them from taking over everything, the Congress and the White House. Well, implicit in that argument, Jim, is sort of the acknowledgment and concession that Bob Dole is going to lose, which is--that was part of the other task in the visit this week.
JIM LEHRER: Andy Kohut, let me ask you this question. When does--when do the polls become too important in themselves? In other words, when do the poll results start driving things along, the way Mark is talking, do you think thatís already beginning this time?
ANDREW KOHUT, Pew Research Center: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I think weíre past the bumps and weíre --weíve got a consensus among national polls and the reality of, of the situation is that Bob Dole is well behind, and thereís a climate of opinion thatís developed in Washington and around the country that perhaps heís going to lose. 76 percent of the public that we questioned thought that Clintonís going to win. 59 percent of the people who backed Bob Dole think that Clintonís going to win. So heís swimming against the climate of opinion. And thatís not very positive, and heís got--heís got to deal with that as well as the problem of knocking down Bill Clinton.
JIM LEHRER: Paul Gigot, how does he deal with that? How does he deal with the momentum of these polls?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, itís very, very hard. First of all, heís got to start turning Ďem around a bit. I think he has to get a strong debate performance. Uh, probably has to do whatever he can to keep Perot out of the debate, because he needs to go one-on-one and show he can go one-on-one with the President. But thereís a real danger here for the Republicans, and this is what scares the Republicans on the Hill is that if their voters, their base voters are so depressed about the potential outcome with the presidential race and Bob Dole, they may not come out to elect them either, and you get the press turnout, and thatís when you get real landslides, when your base doesnít turn out.
JIM LEHRER: Mark, speaking of Perot, what do you make of the selection of Pat Choate as his running mate this week?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, itís kind of tough. I know Pat Choate. I have great respect for him. Every story began with three people turning him down, and Pat Choate doesnít enlarge Ross Perotís appeal. He will probably--I have enormous respect for Adm. Stockdale, whoís a great American patriot, but his debate performance was not his proudest or happiest moment, Iím sure, and I think Pat Choate, if he is in the debates, will acquit himself well, but it didnít--it didnít answer the problem for Ross Perot, uh, of enlarging him and his appeal and reaching out to an entirely different constituency.
JIM LEHRER: Mark, another issue that came up this week was the growing flap over President Clintonís medical records. Heís released a summary but not the details. Do you see that growing any more?
MARK SHIELDS: I think itís there, Jim. I think the Dole people ought to--probably will stay on it. Uh, itís legitimate. There--there is no apparent explanation as to why and there, of course, is all sorts of speculation, and I think that itís more--an issue youíll hear more and more again. I donít know if itís--uh--if thereís anything there, and I donít know if anybody else knows that thereís anything there--
JIM LEHRER: Right.
MARK SHIELDS: --but itís certainly one where he has been unresponsive.
JIM LEHRER: Bob Dole has raised it publicly two or three times this week alone.
MARK SHIELDS: Yes, he has.
JIM LEHRER: What do you think about that issue, Paul?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, we have a President whoís not very subtly running on the age issue, umm, you know, heís the future, Bob Dole is the past, a lot of imagery of, of--hinting at age, and yet, Bob Dole, the 73-year-old, is releasing his and the President isnít. And weíve had a long history in this country, a not very happy history in recent decades of not getting the whole truth about presidential health. So I think this is one in which the President is before this is over going to have to do something to, to accommodate the questions, because the press conference he had this week with the White House, his spokesman, Mike McCurry had, with the White House press corps was not very pleasant. Uh--
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. I was just going to ask Kathleen, whatís the recent history show when, when advertising--candidate advertising tens to get personal, like this candidate hasnít released a health record or that kind of thing, do those things work?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: It depends on whether theyíre considered to be accurate, fair, and in context and relevant to governance. If they are, theyíre not considered to be illegitimate, hence, negative; theyíre just simply considered to be differentiation. And so the larger question now is what are the things that are fair grounds for attack, and I think the disclosure of health records is a legitimate cause for concern because of the history that Paul alludes to.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. And weíll expect that also. Thereís word this week, Paul--Mark, that Bob Doleís going to go after the President on the teen-age drug problem as well and blame him for that.
MARK SHIELDS: You know, thatís right, and Republicans have talked about that issue. I donít see that issue getting the kind of traction that I think Republicans hope that it will, Jim, but, you know, this wouldnít be the first time in 1996 Iíve been wrong, but I--I think there are other places where Bob Dole can--can draw the distinctions more effectively.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Well, weíre going to leave it there. Kathleen, Andy, thank you, both of you, for being with us again, and Mark and Paul, thank you all.