Wednesday, January 13, 1999 Doug Bailey, founder of The Hotline political newsletter and former political media consultant to President Gerald Ford, former Tennessee governor Lamar Alexander and Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), was live online answering questions about impeachment and Washington politics on Wednesday, Jan. 13.
Here is the transcript from the Q & A:
Centreville, Va.: Do you really expect anything less than a partisan vote in the Senate when this trial comes to a close? And how hard do you think Republican senators will be hit in the 2000 elections (i.e. Rick Santorum: a one-term senator)?
Doug Bailey: I do expect it will be a partisan vote; I think that's unfortunate. I think the House Republicans should never have brought it without some significant Democratic support. Senators who vote to convict Clinton will lose votes in the general election from the middle. Republican senators who vote to acquit Clinton will be subject to primary challenges.
Washington, D.C.: With the explosion of information on the Web that has changed coverage of both the White House scandal and elections, has The Hotline had to change how it does certain things in order to compete? Or is the news now easier to gather?
Doug Bailey: The news is much tougher to gather, because there are so many more sources. For example, we now have three new TV all-news channels that are all Monica all day that we have to cover. And because there's so much more online, we have to cover that too, although getting hold of the information obviously is easier even though there is more.
Washington, D.C.: Doug, it seems like this is a win-win situation for Clinton. Since it's really unlikely that he will be convicted don't you think that he and his defenders will spin the outcome of the trial as a great victory for him and the 'American people whose business he has been doing'?
Doug Bailey: In the short term I do think it is likely that the Democrats will come out much stronger because of the impeachment trial, but it's hard to call it a win-win for Clinton, who will go down in all history as being disgraced.
Los Alamos, N.M.: Why not let the Lewinsky matter be tried in the criminal court system after President Clinton leaves office? It appears to me that Republicans just want Clinton out of office.
Doug Bailey: I think, in fact, the perjury case is likely to be brought in the criminal courts after he leaves office, but I doubt if that would be successful. I think it is true that the Republicans want him out, although I also believe that it has become so serious that politics actually will not be the deciding factor in most of the senators' votes.
Honeoye Falls, N.Y.: If 90 percent of the American people believe the president lied and therefore is a perjurer, why does the Congress not look at that figure when pondering their vote to convict or not?
Doug Bailey: Those who pay attention to the polls tend not to be selective in the poll numbers that they follow. The very next poll question would probably show that 60-70 percent do not want him impeached even though they believe he perjured himself. So if you're going to follow the polls, don't follow them selectively.
Bethesda, Md.: What is your opinion about Larry Flynt going after the Republicans?
Doug Bailey: I really would expect no less. The more serious question is why the media pay so much attention to Larry Flynt going after the Republicans.
Washington, D.C.: Why have the polls on impeachment been all over the map?
Doug Bailey: The Hotline has reported probably over 200 national polls during the last year, and when you look at them the differences are significant in question wording and in the types of screening they use for voters or registered voters or simply adults. And they differ in the sequence they use in asking questions which one comes first, which comes next, etc. That really explains a lot of the variance in the numbers, although I should add that on the basic question on whether the public wants this president impeached, there is not much variance from one poll to the next.
All those polls, by the way, are collected on http://www.cloakroom.com, the site that the National Journal runs for the subscribers to Hotline, CongressDaily and its other publications.
South Bend, Ind.: Do you think that the acceptance of the president's behavior by the Democratic Party and the public at large makes the Democratic Party's big tent even bigger? Won't this make for an even larger disadvantage for the Republicans as such a person would not be acceptable to their base?
Doug Bailey: I'm not sure I follow the question exactly, but my impression is that there is a very broad feeling among most Democrats, most Independents and some moderate Republicans that the president's behavior, even if they disagree with it, is simply not impeachable. Therefore, when the Republicans press the impeachment question, they anger the voters and swell the ranks of those likely to vote Democratic in the next election.
Washington, D.C.: How does it feel to be listed as one of Newsweek's "Titans of 'Tude?" You agree with the appellation? Also, weren't you at one time connected with the late, great, fabulous political Web site PoliticsNow?
Doug Bailey: That's a very astute question.
I would be more excited to be named a "Titan of Tude" by Newsweek if Larry Flynt and Matt Drudge didn't make the cut on the same page.
PoliticsNow was the finest political Web site ever known to man. And we won't go into the reasons for its demise.
Washington, D.C.: What is you opinion on the affect of live coverage of the impeachment hearings on the outcome?
Doug Bailey: I think that's one of the most interesting subjects of all: the impact of television on our political process, including coverage of Congress in general, coverage of the impeachment trial and the parade of Senate jurors who stay silent during the trial but blab all night on TV.
It's almost inescapable to conclude that many senators will be very conscious of the cameras and the people looking over their shoulder at what they're doing, and will take the public's view far more into account than they ever would have during the trial of Andrew Johnson, for example.
Gladstone, Mo.: You stated that the impeachment vote will likely be a partisan vote. Which Republican Senators could vote not to convict the president? Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine and Jim Jeffords of Vermont come to mind. Also, are there any Democratic Senators who may be persuaded to convict the president? Someone like Chuck Robb or Bob Kerrey?
Doug Bailey: A good question. I don't think anybody could feel very certain of their answer to that question. I really do believe that many senators in both parties will take this responsibility very seriously particularly if there are witnesses and may see or hear things that will cause them to cross party lines. Those who might be thought of to be most likely to do that on the Republican side, in addition to the ones you mentioned would be Sens. Chaffee of Rhode Island and Domenici of New Mexico. On the Democratic side, I think some of the older, longer-serving Democrats like Byrd and Moynihan may be more likely to hear their conscience on this question than some of the newer members.
Hyattsville, Md.: Do you think Clinton should postpone his State of the Union address?
Doug Bailey: No I don't. If we all knew the exact end date of the trial, that would be one thing, but since we don't, he's probably better off to go ahead right on schedule. And from his standpoint, it shows that he's trying to do his job regardless of what anybody else is doing.
College Park, Md.: Do you think Clinton's popularity, even in the face of lying under oath is due mostly to the good economic conditions we enjoy now?
Doug Bailey: Absolutely.
Princeton, N.J.: Does Clinton's decision to appear to be ignoring the proceedings on the Hill ("doing the nation's business") risk making moderate Republicans or on-the-fence Democratic senators feel that he is not taking the fact he was impeached and is on trial personally seriously? Could this lead to a backlash if the perception is Clinton is happy to be impeached and censured?
Doug Bailey: I think there is that danger, but it comes more from a kind of happy-go-lucky attitude that he and his people demonstrated after the House voted on impeachment than his efforts to do his job. I think the White House does have a problem. It can't seem to take impeachment lightly, but it also must avoid trying to get too partisan in its comments, as Joe Lockhart seemed to do yesterday.
Washington, D.C.: Do you think Clinton would resign if it looked as though he were going to be convicted?
Doug Bailey: Yes. But it would have to be within 24 hours of a certain vote for conviction.
Sunman, Ind.: What is (are) the flaw(s) in William Clinton that prevent him from understanding that the United States, the presidency, and the Democratic Party would be best served by his rapid resignation? Can he not understand that the defenders of President Johnson paid a heavy price for their work? Will history repeat itself for his defenders?
Doug Bailey: My guess is, and it's only a guess, that the president simply does not see what he did as anybody's business but his and his family's. It really is surprising, for a person as gifted politically as he is, to be out of touch with how serious people view his actions. The polling numbers must give him some comfort that people do not want him to leave office, but the polls also are just as clear-cut on the public's disgust with his behavior.
washingtonpost.com: What would you tell the GOP candidates for the White House in 2000 about the impeachment issue? Is it better to really go after President Clinton and thus Vice President Gore and the Democrats? Or is less more, and better to take the high road?
Doug Bailey: I think the public is so turned off by Washington, politics and politicians that Republican candidates for president in 2000 ought to be looking to communicate how they would approach politics differently. Of course, they have to have some answer to a question about whether he should be impeached or not, but they're better off waiting for the question to be asked than making an issue of Clinton's infidelity in every speech and every comment.
I'm just as happy to be out of the consulting business and not to be in a position where I have to tell any of them anything.
Leesburg, Va.: Do you think that a full trial with numerous witnesses would help or hurt the president? The Republicans?
Doug Bailey: My guess is that a full trial with numerous witnesses would be very long, and would therefore hurt the Republicans. But it also involves more risk for the president, who at the moment has the votes on his side. Witnesses mean unpredictability, and when you're a sure winner you don't want unpredictability.
Bozeman, Mont.: What's your take on the new White House mouthpiece, Joe Lockhart?
Doug Bailey: I was both a good friend and a big fan of Mike McCurry, who was about as smooth and unflappable as you find. I don't know Joe Lockhart, although he seems to me to be a good deal more partisan than McCurry was, and I'm not sure that serves the president well.
Oil City, Pa.: What effect will Clinton's impeachment and trial have on the 2000 presidential election?
Doug Bailey: Well, it will give an enormous boost on the Republican side to candidates who are outsiders. Republicans are not likely to nominate a Washington insider, and in fact you don't even see any of them running. In a strange way, I personally think Clinton's problems help Al Gore a little bit. Minus the personal shortcomings of Bill Clinton, Gore was going to be constantly measured against all the facile political skills that the president has, and Gore would be found wanting. But because of the president's indiscretions, the Boy Scout quality of Al Gore makes him look more attractive than he otherwise would.
I think the other impact on 2000 is to expect fewer voters than ever. I just think people are so fed up with Washington and the media that it's hard to imagine that they'll come out in significant numbers. Part of what the people are saying is that the president is really irrelevant we just don't want the problems of him being impeached. If the president is really irrelevant [it doesn't matter who is in office], if there are good economic times we can expect fewer people to turn out than ever. What we're finding in the polls now is that the public is saying the economy is so good don't rock our boat by changing presidents.
Richmond, Va.: Can someone like Kasich make a real play for the White House in 2000?
Doug Bailey: Well, he's certainly a very attractive person. Comes with kind of a fresh attitude which I personally find appealing, and is a new generation and that is welcome. His problem is that he probably cannot raise the money to compete effectively. Essentially, candidates who are going to be adequately funded in 2000 need to raise $55,000 a day between now and then. If Kasich gets in today, he's essentially $600,000 to $800,000 behind already. But by running and being visible for at least as long as money allows, he makes himself visible for a vice presidential slot.
Silver Spring, Md.: Do you think Bill Bradley has a snowball's chance in the 2000 presidential race?
Doug Bailey: Well, only if there's a major ice storm. His one chance is to somehow manage to pull off an upset in the new California primary on March 7 in the year 2000. And if he raises the bucks to be competitive, which he may be able to do, and concentrates his money in California and pulls off an upset there, then all bets are off. But it's a very very long shot.
Washington, D.C.: Do you think Lamar Alexander will drop the plaid shirt this time around?
Doug Bailey: He has said that he will, although he continues to like it when his supporters show up in plaid shirts. You probably will never see him wear it again, but you may see it in the crowds where he speaks.
Philadelphia, Pa.: Do you think anyone besides Bill Bradley will challenge Gore?
Doug Bailey: A lot are getting out early. I do think that there will be one or more candidates Jesse Jackson may get in, for whatever reason; John Kerry may get in. I don't think it's inconceivable that Dick Gephardt may rethink the question. But at the moment I don't see anybody who can challenge him. And the more there are, the stronger he will look. The key to anybody beating him is to get all the anti-Gore votes collected behind one person.
Chicago, Ill.: Could Elizabeth Dole be a viable presidential candidate in 2000 ?
Doug Bailey: Absolutely. She has the star power, instant recognizability and as the only woman in the field, she'll get a lot of votes for that reason as well. She probably can raise the money, although that's not certain. Her major difficulty is that she has seldom taken stands on public issues, and preparing to answer all the questions that candidates are expected to answer will be a very very tough chore.
Rosslyn, Va.: Who would you like to see run for president in 2000?
Doug Bailey: On behalf of the Hotline, I'll stay studiously neutral.
Arlington, Va.: What's the chance that some Democratic senators will vote to hold a full trial? Any likely rank-breakers?
Doug Bailey: By full trial, I assume you mean witnesses. I think there's a good possibility that there may be two or three Democrats who agree with the notion of witnesses, just as there may be two or three Republicans who are opposed.
Gaithersburg, Md.: What do you think will happen with Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.)?
Doug Bailey: I'm a little bit surprised that there are virtually no Republicans who seem to have come strongly to his defense. My guess is that if he pays a price, he'll pay it in the 2000 election back in his district. I think it will be interesting to see whether or not there is either public or private pressure from within the Republican Party to withdraw as a visible and participating member of the prosecution in the Senate.
Stone Mountain, Ga.: Who is paying for Clinton's legal defense? His press secretary Lockhart keeps referring to the "White House Attorneys." Are we the taxpayers footing this defense?
Doug Bailey: We the taxpayers are footing a part of it. That is, Charles Ruff is the legal counsel to the president and he is part of the legal defense team. I think that the bills submitted by David Kendall and Bob Bennett and their law offices are paid for privately with money raised publicly but it's not government funds. It's a very legitimate question, by the way, to be insisting on public disclosure of who contributes to the president's legal defense fund.
Temple Hills, Md.: Do you feel that the media has distorted this issue, on both sides, and how do you feel this affects the outcome?
Doug Bailey: I think that the existence of three new 24-hour news channels, all fighting for an audience and all choosing to sensationalize the news has inevitably distorted the story and made it to be much bigger than it otherwise would have been. You have the anomaly of Fox News Channel, MSNBC and CNBC night after night after night running all Monica programming that fans the flames of their relatively small audience. That may be a commercial success for those channels, but their audience is not the same as the public at large. And the public at large is sick of that programming, sick of that story, and that is one of the things that drives the polls in favor of the president's position.
Rockville, Md.: Do the "Hillary Clinton for Senate" rumors have any basis in reality?
Doug Bailey: I have no idea. You've just got to know that she probably likes to think about, that rather than think about other things in front of her.
Bozeman, Mont.: Do you think there are Senators that will vote for acquittal no matter what? Who are they?
Doug Bailey: I'm sure that there are a number of Democrats who assume today that they will vote for acquittal, and probably will. But I really do think that most senators will take this very very seriously as the most important and visible vote that they have ever cast on anything. And that's what I meant before when I said that it may end up looking like a partisan vote, but most of those votes will end up being dictated by conscience rather than by politics.
Leesburg, Va.: Elizabeth Dole has shown interest in running for president as a Republican. Are any Democratic women interested? How likely is it that a woman would run for VP for both parties in 2000?
Doug Bailey: I don't know of any Democratic woman who has seriously thought about running for president in 2000. I think that interestingly enough, there's a very good possibility that both vice presidential nominees in 2000 will be women. Elizabeth Dole on the Republican side and Dianne Feinstein on the Democratic ticket.
Clearwater, Fla.: Given the scenario of an acquittal in the Senate trial, what is your take on the constitutionality of a senatorial censure resolution?
Doug Bailey: I'm not a lawyer, but I have no difficulty whatsoever with the constitutionality of a censure resolution. Simply because it's not provided for explicitly in the Constitution does not mean its unconstitutional. The constitutional prohibition comes with anything that can be construed as a bill of attainder, which singles out a particular person for a particular punishment. So as I understand it, a censure resolution which expresses the strongest disgust with the president's behavior would not be a legal problem. On the other hand, if you assume acquittal in a Senate trial, I don't think you'll ever get the president to go along with anything that would cause Republicans to be satisfied with a censure motion.
Washington, D.C.: Do you think the country is ready for a female president?
Doug Bailey: Of course the country is ready for it. I think there are still some voters who would be hesitant. On the other hand, there are undoubtedly a lot of voters who would vote for a woman candidate for president, regardless of party. What strikes me as more likely is that the country get comfortable with the experience of a woman as vice president, and have her elevated by election or otherwise to the top job. And if it is Gore-Feinstein vs. Bush-Dole in 2000, that is a scenario that is likely to play out in the future.
washingtonpost.com: That was our last question for today. A special thanks to our guest, Doug Bailey. Join us Thursday, Jan. 14 for a discussion with Washington Post Senior Correspondent Robert G. Kaiser 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. EST.