Louisiana Upset

JIM LEHRER: Republicans in Louisiana last night voted at their caucuses to give 13 of 21 convention delegates to Pat Buchanan and only 8 to Sen. Phil Gramm. Gramm, himself, had said he had to win in Louisiana to keep his candidacy viable. We see how all of this looks now to our regular political analysts, Shields & Gigot, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, "Wall Street Journal" columnist Paul Gigot. Paul, how do you measure this blow to Phil Gramm?

PAUL GIGOT, Wall Street Journal: Well, it's serious. It's severe. The irony is that he triggered the very bomb that blew up in his face. He was the one who said we won't start with Iowa, I'll try to start in Louisiana, next-door to Texas, next-door to the state where I'm a Senator, where I can win, where I can bring some momentum, show I'm the conservative candidate, unite the conservative faction behind me to take on the choice of the party establishment, Bob Dole, and it all blew up in his face. Instead–

JIM LEHRER: And Dole, Forbes, Alexander didn't participate.

MR. GIGOT: That's right, because they didn't, they said, they didn't want to offend Iowa's status as the first caucus state, and Phil Gramm said, I don't care about that, just as he tried to maneuver around the New Hampshire primary and didn't make any friends in New Hampshire, that hasn't helped him in Iowa, and now he doesn't have the momentum. Instead, he created a slide for Pat Buchanan to develop the momentum to, to slice off support on the right. It's a big, big blow.

JIM LEHRER: Yeah. And he–but he said he's going on to Iowa, where you are sitting tonight, Mark. What kind of big problem does he bring with him?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Well, he brings with him–and Paul's absolutely right, Jim, we always hold candidates to a higher standard for some reason, historical reason, when they're running in the next-door states. We held Michael Dukakis and Paul Tsongas, both Massachusetts office-holders, to a higher standard in the New Hampshire primary, where Bob Dole is expected to do well in Iowa because he's a Kansas native. Phil Gramm picked this spot. He had the entire party establishment lined up. The thing was greased. This was supposed to be a lay-down hand, and Patrick J. Buchanan went in and walked away with it. So for Phil Gramm, it's an enormous blow. And it–there's no question–how big a victory it is for Pat, whether it propels Buchanan, we do not know, and we won't know for a while, but we do know that it could be even a mortal blow for Phil Gramm.

JIM LEHRER: Mortal blow? Mortal blow?

MR. GIGOT: I think it could be. The one smidgeon of hope he has left is that he has a very, very good organization in Iowa, and the cliche about caucus states, you need an organization to get out your people. If that works for him, he might be able to climb into the third spot perhaps and carry on.

JIM LEHRER: One of the ironies of this, gentlemen, is that, that if let's say it had gone as expected, that Phil Gramm had won, we probably wouldn't be talking about this tonight. I mean, because we're talking about, what, 21 delegates–I think less than 50,000 people participated in those caucuses, so in terms of numbers, it isn't that big a deal, but he, as you say, made it a deal.

MR. GIGOT: Well, you know, there are a lot of candidates who haven't measured up to expectations that the press has created. This is one of the first who hasn't met the expectations that he created.

JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Mark, is there–are there issues that separate Phil Gramm from Pat Buchanan that matter not only in Louisiana but also in Iowa, where they're going again?

MR. SHIELDS: Jim, I've said before and I know Paul disagrees with me, Pat Buchanan is the one Republican candidate who in my judgment and I've listened to all of them, who is addressing head on the central dominant political reality of the 1990s, and that's the decline of the American middle class–the three out of four American males who did not graduate from college who have seen their wages decline. Now you can argue with his prescriptions, argue with his remedies, but he's addressing them, and other than cultural grounds. I mean, most conservatives go in, they talk about gun control, they talk about abortion, they talk about school prayer. Buchanan does that, but Buchanan also says look, there are people in high places in corporate America who don't give a rat's fanny about your well-being, whether this factory is here tomorrow or that town is gone Tuesday. And I'll tell you, it struck a resonant chord. Charlie Black, Phil Gramm's respected, able, and veteran campaign manager, told me this afternoon that they had underestimated the saliency, the appeal of Pat Buchanan's opposition to NAFTA in Louisiana and his opposition to free trade. Now, that is obviously not going to be the same thing in Iowa, but it is something, I think, that neither party–and I don't exempt the Democrats–have really addressed this issue of the decline of the American middle class.

JIM LEHRER: Feel free to disagree, Paul.

MR. GIGOT: Well, I don't disagree with at least a good portion of what he's said in this. I think there are two Republicans who are–who have been talking about those economic issues, of how you–how you help economic circumstances of middle class voters. I think Buchanan has. I think Forbes has as well, and that's part of Steve Forbes's appeal as well. They do it in different ways. And I think–but where I disagree with Mark is that I think that Buchanan's real populist appeal, where his strength has been, is not so much on the trade issue, it's been on the cultural issues. I think–

JIM LEHRER: Like abortion?

MR. GIGOT: Like abortion. I mean, when he talks about a conservatism of the–

JIM LEHRER: Immigration.

MR. GIGOT: That's where I think he strikes a resonant chord, whereas, Phil Gramm did, didn't seem to ever find a way to address those issues in a compelling way, and Pat Buchanan does. His message, where it can sound a little pessimistic on some of the economic questions, pull up the fortress, America, he sounds uplifting and positive when it comes to social issues.

JIM LEHRER: Yeah. On another issue related to this, Mark, you're in Iowa. The other thing that Gramm took a hit, this was a bad 24 hours for him, took a hit by not being here in the Senate yesterday to cast what his opponents said would have been the deciding vote that would have, would have let the vote on the Farm Bill go yesterday instead of today. Sen. Dole was here. Sen. Lugar was here, but Gramm wasn't. Is that a big deal in Iowa?

MR. SHIELDS: Well, Jim, I mean, one of the quirks of scheduling the Gramm campaign had put on the books today a rally in the State House Rotunda to celebrate the anticipated victory in Louisiana and get some impetus out of it. Sen. Gramm–

JIM LEHRER: You mean in Des Moines? You're talking about in Des Moines?

MR. SHIELDS: In Des Moines.

JIM LEHRER: Right.

MR. SHIELDS: Here in Iowa.

JIM LEHRER: Okay.

MR. SHIELDS: And a lot of people showed up and they were, you know, loyal to him and cheering and all the rest, although it lacked a certain conviction because many of them were, that I talked to, were still reeling from yesterday's results, but on top of that not only was he responding to yesterday's results in Louisiana, the next question he got right out of the box was: Why did you miss the vote yesterday on the Farm Bill? And so from the rally, Sen. Gramm went directly to WHO, the radio station here, on the Farm Hour to explain why Bob Dole had done this dirty deed to him yesterday when he knew he only had 59 votes and that Phil Gramm would be the 60th vote, and that the people of Iowa and the farmers were too smart to be fooled by Bob Dole's leger de main legislatively.

JIM LEHRER: Oh, it's not politics, is it, Paul?

MR. GIGOT: No, it's not–not at all. I mean, there were some people in the Dole campaign who were thinking that maybe the Democrats were filibustering because they didn't want to give Bob Dole a victory before the Iowa caucus.

JIM LEHRER: I see.

MR. GIGOT: Denying him that, and of course, they got it today.

JIM LEHRER: Back quickly to Buchanan, where you're disagreeing with, with Mark on this, is you don't think Buchanan gets that big a jump out of this, is that right, just because of where the issues are in the Republican Party right now?

MR. GIGOT: Well, I don't know that he will. I think that protectionist message which resonated somewhat in Louisiana, I think, is in big trouble in Iowa, which is a state which depends hugely on farm exports, and that is–I think that creates something of a ceiling for Pat Buchanan in Iowa, particularly making in-roads into economic conservatives. Now, some of the support among social conservatives that Phil Gramm was going to say, look, go for me because I can win may peel off from Phil Gramm and say let's go with the real thing.

JIM LEHRER: We'll pick this up.

MR. SHIELDS: Jim.

JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Go ahead, sure.

MR. SHIELDS: Two words. Two words that go unspoken on the campaign trail are free trade, free trade.

JIM LEHRER: Okay.

MR. SHIELDS: Even Phil Gramm talked about fair trade now, so it isn't protectionism versus whatever.

JIM LEHRER: All right.

MR. SHIELDS: Free trade is not a popular item.

JIM LEHRER: All right, guys. We'll pick this up on Friday night. We'll talk about Iowa and some other things then. See you then. Thank you both very much.

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