Margaret Warner talks to our regular trio of political reporters about Bob Dole's big acceptance speech tonight. What will he set out to say? And how will he say it?
MARGARET WARNER: For insight into the preparation and political purpose of tonight's speech, we turn to David Broder of the 'Washington Post,' Ron Brownstein of the 'Los Angeles Times,' and Elizabeth Arnold of National Public Radio. Welcome back, all of you. David, what should we expect from tonight's speech?
DAVID BRODER, Washington Post: I think what they are hoping is that Sen. Dole, first of all, will give people some insights into his character, his personality, and second that he will make it very clear what his agenda would be for the country. Focusing primarily, I would guess, on the economic plan, which, as Sec. Shultz said, is more than just a tax cut, but also I think he'll talk about some of the social issues. His plan for school choice--excuse me--drugs and the other social problems that are on people's mind.
The critical test for him, I think, is whether he can convince particularly younger voters who see him as a figure of the past, a grandfather figure that he really understands what their concerns are and is prepared to do something about.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree, Elizabeth, that that's really the test of a successful speech for him tonight?
ELIZABETH ARNOLD, National Public Radio: I do. This is the reintroduction and introduction of Bob Dole. And if you go out on the road with him and he's in a coffee shop, the people standing outside the coffee shop sort of crane their necks to see who it is, and they say, oh, it's Bob Dole, that guy that you see on C-Span from the well of the Senate. That's not the Bob Dole that they want people to look at him as a very different man than that. In fact, if you think about the convention this week, it's been about the first 35 years of his life, not about the second 35 years of his life.
RON BROWNSTEIN, Los Angeles Times: Well, they're saying that the one word that everyone is supposed to remember from tonight is trust. Trust in two ways, why Bob Dole trusts the American people, in essence, is an argument for moving power out of Washington into the states and ultimately out of government altogether into the hands of the people, and why the American people should trust Bob Dole, which is his character argument, and strength of character.
They made a lot more progress I think this week on the first count, as David was suggesting. They have a two-count issue here of who he is and what he will do, and they made a lot progress last night on who he is, and Elizabeth Dole's obviously was very well received, but they still have to make a lot of progress yet on that second count, which is what he's going to do, what he's going to mean for average families if he gets to the White House.
MARGARET WARNER: What's the preparation been like for this?
MS. ARNOLD: Well, the interesting thing, I mean, there's a lot of people involved in this, but I think the most important person here involved in this speech is Bob Dole, somebody who doesn't like giving speeches if you think about him on the Senate floor flipping that notebook, and he's sort of like a kid who's giving a book report on a book that he hasn't read.
But he is very into this speech, and he's been working for four months with Mark Helprin, and having sort of last minute anxiety attacks about it and bringing a few other people in. And he's been doing a lot of work with a speech coach and Teleprompter and it won't be anything like I think the speech that he gave in response to the State of the Union that a lot of people if they hadn't seen heard about.
MARGARET WARNER: So he's taking seriously, David, his--obviously his need to rise to this moment.
MR. BRODER: I was just thinking, by contrast, just a year ago now, we were all down in Dallas at that Perot gathering where all the leaders of both the parties came in. Bob Dole was a speaker there. And it read as if it was something he had scribbled on the back of an envelope on the cab or the limousine on the way over from the hotel, no preparation, threw this occasion away, and really bombed.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: You know, it's hard to say that a single speech--you know, I think people can over weight the impact of a single speech, but the fact is that a really good convention speech can shape the fall election. I mean, George Bush certainly in 1988 moved from being sort of this upper class, ineffectual, tongue-tied wimp into Gary Cooper, you know, this quiet man with hidden reserves of strength. Bill Clinton in ‘92 went from sort of this Eddie Haskell figure who, you know, sort of cut corners all the way through Georgetown, Oxford, and Yale, and to the small town boy who honored his grandfather, who quoted scripture, who still believed in a place called Hope.
They reframed who he was in a very fundamental way. And I think they've been doing that. They've set the stage for Bob Dole by showing him, as Elizabeth, I think very perceptively, said, not as a 35-year veteran of Washington but a small town boy whose family had to rent out the first floor of their house and live in the basement and who wants to be President so he can make life better for average Americans. And now he's got to come in and nail that down.
MS. ARNOLD: But the fact that so much rests on it isn't a good sign. I mean--
MARGARET WARNER: Is not a good sign?
MS. ARNOLD: Yeah. I mean, he has yet to command the attention of voters, and he really needs to do that, and here we are, the night he accepts the nomination.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Re-re-re-introduction.
MR. BRODER: And the substantive part is important. There hasn't been much exposition or salesmanship of the economic plan which he wants to make the centerpiece of his campaign. If he doesn't get that job done tonight, then all the American people are going to hear the next 10 days is the Democrats describing this as a plan which will either blow a hole in the budget, or cost--force them to cut Medicare and Medicaid. So he's got to feel substantive, as well as personal, in building the trust that, that you were talking about Ron.
MS. ARNOLD: He's got to be able to sell it, though. Before he gave the economic speech last weekend and really decided on it, it was sort of a hole in the speech, and until he knew what he was going to say on the economic plan, it was just a hole. It can't--it can't be like a whole when he's talking about it tonight.
MARGARET WARNER: And there really hasn't been much at this convention, in terms of major substance on the economic plan from the podium.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: This convention is starting to look like a Beneton's ad. I mean, it's sort of the united colors of the Republican Party. I mean, you've had every conceivable ethnic, racial demographic group--they've had I think more speakers, uh, you know, certainly almost from outside of politics than inside of politics. I mean, it's very much been about, I think, changing the atmospherics surrounding the party, and people have talked about the ghost of ‘92 looming over this convention.
But I think the real ghost is the 18 months of the Republican Congress, particularly the shutdowns last weekend. Newt Gingrich we saw not in prime time, and he was talking about beach volleyball. Dick Armey is going to get out tonight, but I think also not in prime time, and some of the other members of the House Republican leadership. It's almost as if they've had guards at the border, you know, to keep him from getting here. So they're mostly focusing on sort of presenting a kinder, gentler face, a Kemp-Powell kind of compassion or conservatism.
MARGARET WARNER: And before we go, let's talk about the Kemp speech, because that will also get a lot of attention tonight. What does he have to do?
MR. BRODER: Well, he has, I think, the--exactly the opposite problem from Sen. Dole. Kemp always overwhelms you. There's so much passion, so lengthy, that he just kind of buries you in it. What he has to do is restrain himself so he doesn't overshadow the head of the ticket, and still manage to convey that, that conviction that is there in him.
MS. ARNOLD: And then out on the road the same thing. Kemp sort of has to do what Dole can't do. He's the guy that throws the football back into, into the audience. He's the guy that sort of tap dances around and is eloquent when he needs to be eloquent but knows, as you say, it went to restrain himself, so that all the attention is on top of the ticket.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Think about how remarkable this is, though. Six months ago, he said he was in his wilderness years. Last week, Scott Reed was calling friends of Jack Kemp to make sure he was coming to the convention.
MARGARET WARNER: Which he didn't want to do, except his wife wanted to come.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Exactly right. And now here he is--here he is on the podium. I mean, it is very much of a mid-course correction to bring back in Kemp, on the one hand who is very much in tune with the economic message, but always been quite noisily defecting on a bunch of the social issues. Now in the last 72 hours he's had to sort of make a very abrupt about face and sort of bring himself back in line with the party.
And I think that shows some of the tension they're really facing here, on the one hand a very moderate message going out from the podium, on the other hand, the reality that Jack Kemp has been forced, I think, to sort of move himself to the right, to bring himself back in line, which would--is still at the grassroots, a party whose energy is primarily on the right.
MS. ARNOLD: I think it's very telling about Dole, himself, that he is able to pick Kemp. He is able to embrace this economic plan just like stepping down from the Senate; I think it tells Republicans that he is willing to do what it takes to be competitive.
MARGARET WARNER: We'll have to leave it there. Thank you all very much.