September 24, 1999
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot discuss the 2000 presidential race, Patrick Buchanan's possible Reform Party bid and the president's veto of the Republican tax cut bill.
JIM LEHRER: Now to Shields and Gigot -- syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. Tax cuts, the President vetoed it yesterday. There's talk today, Mark, that there might still be some hope for a compromise. But it's over, isn't it?
MARK SHIELDS: It is over, Jim. There will be a tax bill to extend tax breaks that would expire this year and there will be small business...
JIM LEHRER: That came out of the Ways and Means Committee today.
MARK SHIELDS: That's right.
|Another tax veto coming|
JIM LEHRER: But the White House said the President is going to veto that, too.
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think the problem is they haven't paid for it or figured out how to pay for it. If they do, and it gets popular enough, and I think there will be some tax relief on the minimum wage. I see a compromise between increasing the minimum wage and putting some small business, especially restaurant relief or tax breaks in that one.
JIM LEHRER: So, Paul, all of this commotion we've been talking about it here every Friday night here for weeks now and the end result is nothing.
PAUL GIGOT: No, I don't agree with that, Jim. The end result -
JIM LEHRER: It was a question.
PAUL GIGOT: Policy.
JIM LEHRER: It was a question.
PAUL GIGOT: The end result on policy for now is nothing, but it's setting things up for a debate over the size of government, a philosophical debate in the election of 2000 about whether you want to keep the surplus in Washington or whether you want to return some of it in tax cuts. It is a big debate. It ought to take place in an election.
JIM LEHRER: It's something ... it's legitimate -- a legitimate division between Democrats and Republicans. That's what you're saying?
PAUL GIGOT: Sure. I think the President, in his statement, said something interesting. He said I'll sign a bill if it's small enough. He'd love on behalf of Vice President Gore, to get the Republicans to come in and agree to a negotiation to get some kind of a tax cut that is small enough that it really kept ... it really didn't take too much money out of Washington but allowed him and the Vice President to neutralize the tax issue for use in 2000. I don't think the Republicans are going to fall for that.
MARK SHIELDS: Just one quick thing, Jim. It's the only arrow sadly left in the quiver of conservatives. Crime is gone as an issue. Cold war is gone. This is it. It doesn't sell. It didn't sell in 1999. The economy is good. They have money in their pockets and the lure and the appeal of a tax cut was not there. The Republicans found it when they went home. Every poll has showed American people are not committed to it.JIM LEHRER: John King on CNN yesterday made that very point -- that isn't it unusual for a President of the United States to make a big to-do with a ceremony at the White House about vetoing a bill that would cut everybody's taxes?
MARK SHIELDS: He did.
PAUL GIGOT: He didn't say "I won't sign on one." He doesn't want to be positioned of being against tax cuts. Neither does Al Gore. It would be a mistake for the Republicans to say that's the only issue we'll run on. But as an arrow in the quiver, it is more powerful than Mark thinks.
MARK SHIELDS: Well, we'll see. It just... I'll say it, that dog did not hunt. That dog food was not eaten in 1999. I think if the economy went south, you know, and there was unemployment up and there was inflation ... I think there would be a popular appeal for a tax cut.
|The Buchanan move towards the Reform Party|
JIM LEHRER: Okay. The Pat Buchanan story. People are screaming at him, and he's screaming back and going back and forth. What's going on, Paul?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I think that as he's become a Reform candidate, he's being he's taken more seriously. And he's had this book out where he was hoping to make a statement about American foreign policy. Instead he's got himself wrapped up in a debate about what he thought about World War II and whether or not Hitler was a real threat -- if he had been able to consolidate Europe. Pat Buchanan argues no, he was more worried about Russia, so Europe and England and France really shouldn't have attacked. Well, there are some settled issues in American politics and World War II is one of them. And I don't think that as a presidential candidate, he really wanted to bring that up. He is finding himself very much on the defensive and I think increasingly marginalizing himself as a major figure in the Republican Party certainly.
JIM LEHRER: And just in the last couple of days, John McCain came out with a strong statement criticizing him and then Elizabeth Dole -- and then today Forbes' campaign manager did which is, at the early part of the controversy, Republicans were saying don't go, Pat. Now they are saying good-bye, Pat. That's a big reversal, is it not?
MARK SHIELDS: Yes. I think, Jim, there are a couple of things at work here. First of all, Pat Buchanan, who I think is a very smart and able guy, shot himself in the foot. This is a self-inflicted, self-indulgent controversy he created. You do not introduce hypothetical complex historical arguments in the heat of a political campaign especially on a subject where you're vulnerable to charges of anti-Semitism. That's what Pat Buchanan did not need to be. I mean, he hurt himself and his followers by doing that. That's the first thing. Once the blood was in the water, you'll see Forbes and McCain...
JIM LEHRER: McCain was first.
MARK SHIELDS: McCain was first and Mrs. Dole, you'll see a whole parade of them, and conservative columnists and editorial pages attacking Pat. Why? Because Pat as the Reform candidate ... they want to disable him so the Reform Party doesn't take him. And they say Pat takes -- for every three votes Pat takes, two of them come right out of the Republicans. That's a concern.
JIM LEHRER: You think it's that cynical?
PAUL GIGOT: No, I don't. I was going to say there may actually be some principled divisions here. I think what's interesting is Pat is waving the red flag and saying charge conservatives to a new movement. And activists and journalists are saying, sorry, Pat, you're in no way a conservative anymore. I mean here's a man who savages Republicans for not showing enough fealty to social issues. And he's willing to join a party, the Reform Party, which doesn't care a lick about social issues. He is increasingly statist in his free market -- abandoning free markets especially on trade. And on foreign policy, an element of conservatism has been a muscular foreign policy that's willing to intervene abroad and he is repudiating that. So in a sense he is really not a conservative anymore.
JIM LEHRER: Speaking of cynicism, Orville Swindel, you know, who was a POW and who helped found the Reform Party with Ross Perot, made a statement today. He said, "There is a possibility this has all been stirred up by Pat to get all of the publicity. When you're not in the spotlight, you're bleeding to death" - meaning that Buchanan as a Republican was doing very poorly and only chance he had was to run as a Reform candidate.
|A Republican in Reform?|
MARK SHIELDS: I don't think there is in I question that Pat was not doing nearly as well as he did -- in 1992 he was the only challenge. He was the conservative alternative to George Bush, the President. In 1996, he was the leader and the carrier of the conservative banner. He beat Bob Dole, the establishment candidate, in the New Hampshire primary. And at that point the establishment of the party trained its guns on Pat Buchanan. Pat Buchanan self-inflicted wounds. No question about it. Was this an opportunity for them to jump on Pat, absolutely. Did he give them the gun and hold it out there, yes, he did. But, make no mistake about it -- these same folks who are saying Pat is not a good fit with the Reform Party, are saying what about Jesse Ventura. He is for legalization of prostitution; legalization of marijuana. Nobody is talking about this being a fit anywhere. Nobody is talking about Donald Trump and his position on national... American nationalism or economic nationalism. You know it's kind of a double standard at work, it strikes me.
JIM LEHRER: That's an unusual thing in politics, isn't it?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, you have got $13 million, that because of our campaign finance law somebody is going to get. If you are a Republican, who would you rather have it, Donald Trump who people really won't take too seriously, or Pat Buchanan, who might get up there and savage your candidate?
JIM LEHRER: You are not suggesting, are you, Mark, that Pat Buchanan would care a lick about the Reform Party if it didn't have $13 million?
MARK SHIELDS: Not at all. I'd also say that with George W. Bush, and Steve Forbes having basically unlimited funds, unlimited funds, it changes the whole dynamic of the nominating process. I mean, Bob Dole could not compete under this nominating arrangement when you have got two candidates with that kind of money who are not held to the same spending. They can go in and spend $10 million to $12 million in Iowa and New Hampshire. That changes the dynamic. Buchanan is interested in the Reform Party because it is $13 million, because it is a chance for him to get his ideas out and probably be shot down as loony as well. But make no mistake about this, Jim: If, in fact, it looks like Pat Buchanan is going to get the nomination, and Paul is right, Donald Trump is a landlord from New York who is a casino owner, is not going to get 5 percent. Jesse Ventura wants to run in 2004. In order to do so, he has to get 5 percent this time. He will get into the race himself. Don't you agree?
JIM LEHRER: Do you see it that way?
PAUL GIGOT: I do. The problem though, is that the Reform Party isn't a political party. It's a Halloween party. I mean, you've got Ross Perot who comes from in and out of touch with reality. You've got Lenora Fulani, who is an important figure. She thought Michael Dukakis was some kind of white supremacist. Pat Buchanan is going to have lunch with her to talk about whether or not... she doesn't agree with anything he does except they all agree they need to get 5 percent of the vote with that $13 million.
JIM LEHRER: Back to a point you made a while ago, both of you made, is this flap about Pat Buchanan going to make him too much for the Reform Party?
PAUL GIGOT: I don't know because it is such an amalgam of disparate voices. It's hard to tell if there is much of a Reform Party there. So if he gets enough money from Ross Perot, who is his big ally now --
JIM LEHRER: There was a report today that Perot is putting out signals yeah, I want you, Pat.
PAUL GIGOT: He may be able to buy, in essence, the nomination with enough ballots and Internet votes because the process is not like a normal convention. So he may be able to win the nomination anyway.
MARK SHIELDS: I think Pat is on the edge, the cusp of becoming radioactive politically that would do him in for winning the Reform Party or any other party's nomination.
JIM LEHRER: All right. We'll see what happens. Thank you both.