Echoes of the Past: Presidential Election of 1992

JUDY WOODRUFF: The political fallout of the New Hampshire primary is our lead and only focus tonight. We'll took at what the results mean for both parties, starting with the surprise on the Republican side. As we reported earlier, the official results show Patrick Buchanan won 37 percent of the vote against President Bush's 53 percent. The challenger's strong showing sent shock waves through the GOP around the country. Buchanan met with reporters In Bedford, New Hampshire this morning. President Bush responded from Knoxville, Tennessee. Here are some excerpts,

PATRICK BUCHANAN Republican Presidential Candidate: For us to have a fighting chance, Republicans have to start climbing down off the fence, standing up and being counted the way the people of New Hampshire stood up and were counted, because we can't defeat this mighty establishment alone. We intend to go South and fight on all fronts, three major basic issues, the American economy, and the horrific impact of Mr. Bush's abandonment of Republican principles, second, a new foreign intrigue policy for the United States that casts aside all this globalist nonsense about a new world order and starts to put America first, third, an end to the one party government In Washington which requires new leadership not only in the White House but a new Congress that represents the people and will stand up to the special interests, the lobbyists, the registered and unregistered agents of influence, the bureaucrats, and the regulators who control so much of our destiny. Finally, I think this tremendous showing which the people of New Hampshire gave us in this vote of confidence they have given us entities to a face-to-face debate with Mr. Bush, and we want that debate.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Later, he was asked If you were George Bush, why would you debate Pat Buchanan.

PATRICK BUCHANAN: I think that Mr. Bush has clearly gotten a wake-up call from the people of New Hampshire in this campaign. I think he at best recognized and realized that he is out of touch with the mainstream of the Republican Party when a candidate, an insurgent candidate, can walk into a state and take 40 percent of the Independent and Republican vote away from him in a 10-week campaign that begins from scratch, and that he's going to have to begin addressing the issues and concerns inside his own party, and I think it'll be a good thing for him, and secondly, I think if he doesn't do it, he is going to reinforce this impression that people are basically in control because they have the machinery and the power and the office, the money and all the rest of it. And we are in the year of the outsider and I think he's going to have to connect with the people who want the issues debated.

PRESIDENT BUSH: I think there was a lot of pounding on me, five Democrats, one Republican, and a certain editorial policy up there that for nine weeks did nothing but hit me, with defense on my part. Some of these Congressmen with me today said, hey, since when is an 18 point victory been considered anything other than a landslide? So we're going to go forward now. The other thing I've got to do though, I do think I have to do better, is get this message to the country, and particularly these Southern states if you want an election contest, about what we're trying to do to help that that are hurting, what we're trying to do in the Congress to enlist support to get our sound proposals through and beat back the Democratic proposals.

REPORTER: Mr. President, you say you need to define Pat Buchanan. How do you define him?

PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, we're debating that. Just tell the truth. You just tell the truth.

REPORTER: What do people need to know about him?

PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, I don't think Social Security ought to be voluntary. That's the Bush position.

REPORTER: How does that define Pat Buchanan?

PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, people go ask him what he thinks About It.

REPORTER: Don't you risk having a divided party in the fall if you attack him hard?

PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, that's a danger, but he doesn't worry about that. I've been attacked hard.

REPORTER: Do you think he's —

PRESIDENT BUSH: I think I've seen that, but it's much better to stay on the positive plane. I'll point out what I'm more. I was for what Tennessee did in supporting Desert Storm. I am for protecting those on Social Security. And there's a wide array of things that we can point out that are positive, and then you call can make the interpretation. That's the kind side, might not be as gentle as just forgetting about it altogether. But I was a little sick and tired of getting pounded by five Democrats day in and day out, not responding, and similarly by the Republican challenger whom I beat by 18 points. And I'm going to stay, you know, taking a positive message across the country.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The 18 point margin the President was referring to shrank a bit to 16 points when the final results were reported this afternoon. For a closer look at what happened yesterday and what it could spell for the future, we turn now to our own team of Gergen & Shields plus one. The one is Marc Nuttle, a veteran Republican strategist who ran the Pat Robertson campaign in 1988. He joins us tonight from public station KETA in Oklahoma City. David Gergen is editor at large at "U.S. News & World Report," and Mark Shields is a syndicated columnist. Mark, should the President be satisfied, as he put it, with a landslide victory? He was talking 18 percent, We find out now it may be 16 percent or something else.

MR. SHIELDS: The President put a brave face on what was a shocking experience for the Bush reelection campaign. They did not expect, they had said, an unrealistic threshold for Pat Buchanan of 40 percent, expecting that he would never get anywhere near it and that they could declare a victory and even had Richard Nixon, a former President, doing their bidding on the air, and they were just shocked. The Buchanan thing started moving the last ten days, two weeks, and they felt it and then started to say if we win by one vote, it's a victory.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David, is it significant that it turns out it may not be 40 percent that Pat Buchanan got, it may be 37 percent? You were telling me before the show that these numbers may change again, is that right?

MR. GERGEN: Well, they may change. Mark was saying that actually, that in the recounting there may be some shift around, but I think, look, the damage has been done. It can be 37, it can be 38, it can be 36. The fact is that while the President did put a brave face on it, the word from the White House today is he's angry, He's angry that this man got this kind of vote. He's angry that Pat Buchanan is in this race. He regards him as a journalist who ought to stay in his place, in effect, has no place running elective politics and he now plans to take him on. And I think it was very clear from his comments today what the White House is saying is we're going to sharpen the differences. What they really mean is they're going to sharpen their knives, and they're going to go after him.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, Marc Nuttle, what can Pat Buchanan do after this? I mean, he's technically, as I understand it, is he able to get the nomination, given the number of states he's shut out of?

MR. NUTTLE: No, he's not. The thing to remember is that 25 percent of the delegates at the Republican National Convention are elected through caucus states. It requires an enormous organization, both in sophistication and training to be able to deliver a caucus state. Pat Buchanan doesn't have any organization. He doesn't have the time that's required or the money to put that together, That's 25 percent. In addition to that, he missed the ballot In a couple of key states, particularly New York, and there are a couple of states that have open primary ballots that delegates are slated either directly or indirectly. You must have an organization deliver the vote to those slates like in Illinois. And that's worth about another 10 percent. And last but not least, the President is not going to be shut out of threshold delegates, just like Pat Buchanan got nine delegates for getting 40 percent of the vote. Even if he were to get 60 to 70 percent of the vote in all the rest of the states, the President's going to get 30 to 40 and the threshold delegates getting 15 to 20 percent will get him another 15 to 20 percent of the delegates.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So what —

MR. NUTTLE: Only California is winner-take-all so technically, I don't see how he can possibly get the nomination.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Mark, if he can't, then what's going on here?

MR. SHIELDS; Well, with all due respect to Marc Nuttle, whom I have enormous respect, I don't think it's arithmetic; it's chemistry. I mean, if you describe a situation where George Bush was getting beat 60 to 30, then the hue and the cry and the anxiety level among Republicans, whose names are going to be on the ballot this fall would be scared stiff that somebody at the top of the ticket was going to take them down with them, would be so loud and so pervasive that George Bush would be pressured to step aside. I'm not arguing with the argument he made. What I'm saying is if Pat Buchanan ever caught on like that. I think Pat Buchanan does face a couple of serious challenges right now. He's going South, where the economy is not as bad as it was in New Hampshire. The pain is not as widespread. He's going to Georgia, where the unemployment rate is half what it was in New Hampshire. And he's got to remember the lesson right now strategically of Ronald Reagan in 1976 when he challenged President Ford and went through a string, a series of defeats, and then finally realized he had to pick his terrain. He picked North Carolina, did Ronald Reagan, and he won. Pat Buchanan has to pick a state right now where be can take on George Bush that's small enough and manageable enough and where be could beat him.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What does that say, David? Is there a state coming up —

MR. GERGEN: Well, I tend to agree with Marc Nuttle. I don't see a state where Pat Buchanan can beat George Bush. But I'm not sure that's the point. We're not looking at a Reagan-Ford fight of 1976. As Lynn Nofsiger pointed out today, George Bush is much better campaigner than Jerry Ford was and Pat Buchanan is not as good a campaigner as Ronald Reagan was. And he doesn't have the organization that Reagan had. What we are looking at is an insurgency by Buchanan that's going to bleed the President. It's going to weaken him. It's going to extend out the argument, it may bring splits within the Republican ranks. It may weaken the President for the fall, but that's the significance of the campaign for 1992. It also now has significance for 1996 for the Republican Party.

MS, WOODRUFF: All right. Weaken the President, bleed the President, as you put it. Marc Nuttle, you know the South well. How much damage can Pat Buchanan do there to this President?

MR. NUTTLE: Well, first let me say I agree with both Mark and David. And let me just restate it this way, that Pat Buchanan cannot win the nomination unless George Bush quits, so if he can knock him out, it has to be a knockout strategy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You all don't disagree with that?

MR. GERGEN: I totally agree.

MR., NUTTLE: Possibly helping him in this regard. George Bush's problem is not Pat Buchanan. If you look at the Exit Polls, who voted for Pat Buchanan, it was mainly a protest vote. What the scary thing is that they said even though I've sent a message, I'm not going to vote for George Bush in the general election. One of the most ludicrous things that one of the spin masters said was that a large Independent crossover vote. Well, good grief, what do you think Independents do in the general election, and what kind of a signal does that send? Now, what George Bush has got to do is clarify his message to ticket-splitting, middle-class working Democrats that are, it's a broader category than just Reagan Democrats who are not hearing, one, how he is different from this Congress that he's running against, because the message that he's being pounded with by, from Pat Buchanan and the Democrats is that he was part of the problem in the budget process, part of the problem in raising taxes and making deals, and, therefore, when he says send Congress a message, it doesn't compute, and second, what programs is he going to implement for jobs? He has to tailor those state by state and make those more relevant by region so people will listen to it. If he doesn't do that too, Judy, by the way, he's got three weeks to appeal to these ticket splitting Democrats who may participate in the Democratic primary and it doesn't mean they've made a decision in their mind consciously of who they're going to vote for for President, but these are people who voted for Jimmy Carter and have voted Democrat prior to 1980, and if we lose them, and it is our burden to bring them back in a general election, then it is an issue the Democrats have to present us with so that we'll have an argument to give them a reason to cross that threshold and to satisfy that burden.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Does either one of you disagree with that, that it's those blue collar Democrats, the broader definition than just the Reagan Democrats, that the President has now got to reach out and —

MR. SHIELDS: I think it is — I think Marc has identified what George Bush's specific political problem is and precisely. But I think in the figure he cited or alluded to was that one-half of the people who voted for Pat Buchanan in New Hampshire yesterday said they intended to vote for a Democrat in the fall.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In the fall.

MR. SHIELDS: Now, they may not do that. But what it does mean is that a previous position of hostility or skepticism toward George Bush, which means that George Bush then has to spend an amount of his time, which is pretty finite as a candidate, wooing his own base, going back to his own base of support and asking them to give him another validation. The last candidate who did this was Jimmy Carter in 1980 who spent a good part of October caressing the erogenous zones of the Democratic body politic to tell him that he still loved him and wanted them to love him. And I think that's what — I think that's what Bush faces right now.

MR. GERGEN: I think his dilemma is very deep. And while I agree with Mark about the kind of appeal he has to make, the dilemma I see is he's got the next three weeks in which he's going to travel extensively. Starting next Tuesday, he's basically going to be on the road for two weeks traveling through much of the South. And yet, we saw him, he went into New Hampshire, and he spent his time there. He did not move voters in his direction. The insurgency continued. Patrick Buchanan continued to rise, which says that when he's on the road, he doesn't have a message. And I think his fundamental problem is how do you bring, how do you invent a message that's going to work in the next three weeks. I mean, that's a tough job.

JUDY WOODRUFF, Well, what do you say? How do you refine? Marc Nuttle talked about refining the message that's there. What does the President say that he hasn't already said?

MR. SHIELDS: The problem is not the Bush campaign. The problem is the Bush Presidency. I mean, it goes back to last November when he said he was going to – – stay tuned, listen to me, we're going to define this Presidency on the State of the Union, and we're still looking for a definition. And there was no definition to carry New Hampshire. There isn't going to be one to carry to Oklahoma.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you agree with that, David?

Mr. GERGEN: I think his problem is going to be, the definition increasingly is going to be defining Pat Buchanan, not trying to define George Bush.

MR. SHIELDS: That's what they started with today, Judy.

MR. GERGEN: That's exactly right,

JUDY WOODRUFF: On the social issue of voluntary Social Security.

MR. GERGEN: Right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And opposing the war in the Persian Gulf.

MR. GERGEN: That's right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Are those issues, Marc Nuttle, that Pat Buchanan is vulnerable on in the South and any other state he's going to take the President?

MR. NUTTLE: Let me reiterate. Pat Buchanan is not the problem here. The President must define his own campaign. He is not going to get the nomination unless George Bush quits. The wrong strategy would be to just completely debate Pat Buchanan on his strengths and weaknesses. It was a protest vote in New Hampshire and people are frustrated. There was a common theme in last year's elections that still hasn't been addressed at the national election. Between the Louisiana governorship, the Pennsylvania Senate race, the New Jersey House race and Mississippi Governor race were two Democratic upsets and two Republican upsets. That was based on two basic things: One, Congress is out of control, it's not accountable, it's insensitive, it's arrogant, and it is inefficient. And it can't solve our problems. Then we're in an economic recession and they're looking for government to answers. And who is going to lead us around this inept Congress and give us some solutions to our everyday problems on the economy, an health care, welfare, social services, and chance for a better future, education? Until he defines that, Pat Buchanan is not going to be his problem. That's not where he should go.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But you're not saying the President isn't capable of doing that, any one of you?

MR. GERGEN: I think he's on to something that's very important. In some basic ways, George Bush probably would help himself a lot more by staying in Washington four or five days each of the next three weeks trying to whip the Congress into shape to pass his economic program and not simply going on the road. I think if he went on the road on the weekends, but showed that he was a working President, I think there are a lot of people in this country who are suddenly beginning to ask the question, "Who's going to be President for the next year if we're going to be so wrapped up in a political campaign?" I think what he needs to do is demonstrate that he's a successful President with it program for the future more than just speeches.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Would that do it, Mark?

MR. SHlELDS. George Bush Is caught on the Persian Gulf in a very strange way. The Persian Gulf War was the aberration of the Bush Presidency. He was resolute. He was directed. He went to the public. He made his case. It was a short time frame. His objective was achieved. And people say, well, why, if he really cared that much and did that, what about the economy? And there's a problem of resoluteness, and consistency and Kerrey and Clinton on the domestic issues. And I don't think that is solved. It certainly wasn't solved at Pinkerton Academy in New Hampshire last Saturday with the dancing girls and Arnold Schwarzeneger.

JUDY WOODRUFF. But what about David says, staying in Washington, looking Presidential and holding Congress's feet to the fire?

MR. SHIELDS: I mean, David said it three months ago on this broadcast, and I hate to give him credit for being that prophetic, but I mean, he said he's got to pick one thing and do it. It can't be the issue of the day. And I'll tell you, the worst thing that could happen to George Bush is to go after Pat Buchanan, savage him, get rid of him, and somehow destroy him, because the problem is still there. It isn't going to go away.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I hear you all agreeing on that.

MR. GERGEN: We all three agree. We all three agree on that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: That you all three are saying —

MR. GERGEN: Absolutely.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, Robin Is going to be talking to guests later on the Democrats, but let's just spend the couple of minutes that we have left talking about this race here. And Marc Nuttle, I want to come back to you. What does Bill Clinton need to do? Well, maybe I should turn it around. What can Paul Tsongas do to defy the conventional wisdom that he can't win outside the Northeast?

MR. NUTTLE: Well, the first thing he's got to do is continue the theme that he really started emphasizing about two weeks ago, and that is when he made a statement that the Democratic Party has spent too much time just worrying about the poor, even though the poor are important and must provide a social safety net in this country, but we must also be aware of the working class. Those who provide the goods and services that are taxed, and that it must be part of the formula that is thought of primarily. The second he started doing that, emphasizing that, he started moving in the polls. Yes, Clinton had problems, and he picked up some benefit from that, but at the same time, that was the theme. Those are the types of themes that people are looking for. That was the message that was sent in the off-year elections last year, and that is the type of leadership that ticket splitting Democrats primarily, and conservative, even Republican, independent Republicans are looking for, so continue that I think and right now it's just between he and Clinton on those themes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But you're saying he has the potential to do that outside New England. David, do you agree with that?

MR. GERGEN: Well, I'm really curious because Marc Nuttle knows the South very, very well. Do you think that the "good 'ol boys," Marc, will stick with Clinton all the way through this, or do you think some may break off? Do you think some of the minority vote may break off? My assumption Is that Bill Clinton goes in with a very, very strong appeal to black voters who make up a disproportionate number of voters in the Democratic primaries.

MR. NUTTLE: Well, I think that he has the national basis from the region. He speaks the language, Plus, he has some people that mapped this for him very carefully. Early on in his campaign strategy, in his opening kick-off speeches, be used some words very carefully like "new covenant" that were by design to reach out to both conservatives and the religious community, which the South is more so than say certainly the Northeast but even the West and if though he can hold that, he's got some other problems. And I don't know that some of the ideological –

JUDY WOODRUFF: The draft.

MR. NUTTLE: — conservative vote won't split away from him because of that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Yes. Mark, what about Tsongas having appeal outside New England?

MR. SHIELDS: Well, Tsongas, this is the question. I mean, can Tsongas go out of his basic home region, the Northeast? He's expected to do well in the main caucuses this coming Sunday. And his profile — I mean, he's riding a crest. There's no question about it right now. Paul Tsongas will get a lift comming out of New Hampshire. And whether it carries in the South, Judy, comes down to whether, in fact, he can relate to the base of the Democratic Party. The profile of his support in New Hampshire was disproportionately upper education and upper income. Over $75,000 income, he got 50 percent of the vote; people at post-graduate levels who represented 1/4 of the New Hampshire Democratic primary, he got 50 percent again. Now, I don't know–

MS. WOODRUFF: But that's not going to be the Democratic spread.

MR. SHIELDS: That probably isn't the same profile you're going to run into among Democrats In Georgia.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right.

MR. GERGEN: I didn't mean to say disproportionate. Minorities make up a large portion. The big race is Maryland right now March 3rd for Clinton and Tsongas.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Gentlemen, thank you all.