MAY 16, 1996
A day after he announced his resignation from the Senate, Bob Dole campaigned in Chicago without a tie, but wearing a new relaxed attitude. GOP observers wonder if a new look will be enought to carry him into the White House.
MARGARET WARNER: Now a reaction from four Republican Party strategists: Michael Deaver, former image maker for President Ronald Reagan, is running the Republican Convention's Communications Committee this year; William Kristol, former chief of staff to Vice President Dan Quayle, is editor and publisher of The Weekly Standard; Gary Bauer, who also served in the Reagan administration is head of the Family Research Council on American Renewal; and Ann Stone is the chairman of Republicans for Choice. Welcome, all of you. What do you make, Mike Deaver, of this new private citizen Bob Dole as a campaigner?
MICHAEL DEAVER, Former Reagan Adviser: Well, there's been a lot of comment today. I'll tell you for me watching it, I think the most remarkable thing about it is that we see a Bob Dole who's comfortable with himself. And I can't tell you what an advantage that's going to be for him. We have watched a Bob Dole who's tottered, who hasn't been sure of himself. In the last 24 hours, yesterday and today, we see a Bob Dole who knows exactly who he is and where he's going. And that's a tremendous advantage.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think so? Is that what you're saying? You're one of those beltway pundits who has at times dismissed his prospects for victory, as he said.
WILLIAM KRISTOL, The Weekly Standard: Doubtful about his prospects for victory--umm, well, no, look, he had a very good 24 hours. He genuinely surprised everyone. That's important. And that shows a kind of control of his campaign and an ability to keep a secret. It's almost a presidential sort of thing to do. You know, if you're a legislator, you bargain publicly, you let things drag on. Presidents make sudden, surprising ,decisive decisions, and he made one in resigning from the Senate, and I think that alone is awfully useful. You know, I served with the Bush White House in the dreadful 1992 campaign. We spent that whole year hoping for a moment when George Bush would do something dramatic that would break the cycle of defeat and despair that we were in. I think what Dole did yesterday does break that cycle. He did yesterday what George Bush never did in '92--a dramatic moment that energized his supporters and gave them hope at least for a moment that things could change, that it could be different. He's got to take advantage of that now, but I think it was an important moment.
MARGARET WARNER: So if people do take a new look at Bob Dole, what do you think they'll see based on what we just saw now?
GARY BAUER, Family Research Council: There are a couple of things that were pretty evident in this speech, one is that the character issue is going to be an important issue. Certainly Bob Dole feels and those who support him feel that in a character comparison he comes out real well on a number of areas, not the least of which has been the history of the service to his country. But I think ultimately the election is going to end up turning not on that as much as it will on the vision for the country. And the thing that I was hopeful about today is that Bob Dole seemed to be putting some form on that vision of where he wants to take America, and he was reminding his listeners that this is, after all, a liberal President still sitting in the White House. And the other thing that came to mind is that, Mike, you were talking about Bob Dole didn't seem sure of himself in recent weeks. The Republican Party hasn't seemed sure of itself, and what Bob Dole did yesterday, I think, in addition to everything else, it will encourage the grass roots, which has been terribly demoralized in recent weeks.
MARGARET WARNER: What do you think people are going to see when they look at this Bob Dole?
ANN STONE, Republicans for Choice: Well, I will tell you what I think women are going to see. I think women are going to like the fact that he did take this decisive step to put the politics out to really dedicate himself on the venture to the presidency. However, the message isn't there yet for women, and it was very interesting, it's still a detached message as to how they'll see it. No. 1, he mentioned the word "children" once. That's something they really care about. All right. That's important. Secondly, when he talked about liberal judges and how to get tough on--how liberal judges are tough on cops, liberal judges are also the ones that let the criminals back on the streets to prey on women and children and people and make the streets less safe. That attaches the message. The message is still detached, isn't quite there yet---certainly not for women.
MARGARET WARNER: But he does seem to be trying, when he talks more now about his own personal story, to be trying to bring some empathy and warmth to his image. Do you think it's working?
MR. DEAVER: You've got to remember that it's been 20 years since Bob Dole has been on the national scene, and 20 years ago in 1976 when he ran for Vice President. All of us around here in Washington think we've got a pretty good idea who Bob Dole is. I think I saw some research recently where there was only less than 30 percent of the Americans know that he had a war record. He has to go out there and define himself because Bill Clinton and the Democrats have been defining him for the last six months to a year. This is his opportunity to go out there and say, this is who I am, and it's for many Americans, for many voters, it's going to be the first time.
MARGARET WARNER: What do you make of the point Ann made, well, both Ann and Mike made in terms of how he's defining himself now?
MR. KRISTOL: Well, some of us men like kids too, I'd like to say that. I like my kids. I like Gary's kids.
My wife does. Look, the character issue, Dole, I think, puts a great stock in the character issue and letting, and I think his campaign, I've talked to the people there, they're struck in their research by how little Americans know about his personal history, and I think if they get that out, he's a more attractive and sympathetic man, I'm sure that's true. I don't think at the end of the day voters throw out an incumbent President because they're a little more sympathetic to Bob Dole and because they admire his actions 50 years ago, or even if they admire in general his long service to the country. You do need to give voters a reason to throw out an incumbent President, and it's tough now for Dole, we should be honest about this. You've got a strong economy. Bill Clinton is the first president in a quarter century who did not have a recession in his first term in office. The country's at peace. Clinton's approval rating is now at 55 percent. It's going to be tough to make the case against the incumbent president. I think you can do that, but I really agree with Gary. He's got to do it by--and Dole began to do it today--by alarming people about a Clinton second term. People have to go in the voting booth thinking that things may be sort-of okay now but we can't trust Clinton for a second term.
MR. BAUER: A year and a half ago the American people overwhelmingly rejected the Democratic Party for basically two reasons. First of all what was perceived as an incredible commitment to big government as represented by the National Health Insurance Plan, and also this perception that the Democratic Party was embracing social radicalism. Dole touched on both those things indirectly today. Those, I think, are the two pillars of a successful campaign, and I think the President continues to be very vulnerable in both of those areas, but Bob Dole is going to have to bring that message every day over and over and over again for the American people to be reminded just why a year and a half ago they were rejecting Bill Clinton's party.
MARGARET WARNER: So when he talks about that President Clinton has talked right and governed left, then what he's doing is trying to have it work on two levels, do you think, Ann Stone? And one is, is Clinton really who he says he is? But the other is this, this ideological one.
MS. STONE: Right. And certainly that is one of the problems because Clinton has proved to be quite slippery and is willing to say all things to all people, and certainly I think all of us agree his last State of the Union he sounded like a Republican. I mean, I was waiting for him to whip out the registration, just switch over. But the problem, I think, is probably greater than that, and that is that the tough attacks on Clinton would have to be made. They need people other than Bob Dole doing it because, unfortunately, Bob has this wonderful sharp wit, and when he gets into the attack mode, it comes across too sharp, so they would be well served to have other people out there attacking that have credibility to attack on a wide variety of things and have Dole, instead, be out there talking about his vision with a very positive, up beat, and he needs to get Liddy out there more too.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you all agree that, that he cannot--that Bob Dole cannot really attack the President much?
MR. KRISTOL: No, no, I don't. I mean, we all sit around here and say, gee, he can't look harsh and all that. At the end of the day I think he's got to draw sharp distinctions with the President. I wouldn't attack him particularly on personal character. Let that stand by itself, but I do think he's got to make the case that Bill Clinton's agenda is bad for America, and he's got to be pretty blunt and tough in contrasting his own agenda with Clinton's agenda. But maybe you should let Ann do the really--the really brutal attacks, I think.
MR. DEAVER: People keep talking about, about Dole's 53 or 54 percent approval rating. One of the things they forget is that he's had a 40 percent negative rating.
MARGARET WARNER: You're talking about the President.
MR. DEAVER: I'm sorry. I'm talking about the President. He's had a 40 percent negative rating since he got there. It hasn't moved. It's still phenomenally high, considering the fact that all the things that Bill is talking about, the country's in reasonable shape, the economy's not bad, we are not at war, and yet we've got a President where he's got these very, very high negatives. It's a very uneasy feeling Americans have about this guy and always have. And I think Bob Dole gets out there and by contrasting who he is and his record and what he stood for and what he wants to do for the country, I think he's going to have a good shot. The country's basically with him on the issues, and if he sticks--look at one of the most important things in the campaign is discipline and focus. That's one of the reasons why Bill Clinton is doing well. He's got discipline and focus.
MARGARET WARNER: Which the Reagan campaign had.
MR. DEAVER: That's right, and I think that Bob Dole, if he can do that, he will bring the contrast, he will bring the difference between these two people together. And, remember, in 1980, with Ronald Reagan, we were only ahead of Jimmy Carter in the last 10 days. It was a long, hard pull.
MARGARET WARNER: Okay. But what the Democrats are trying to do is tie the Gingrich Republican Congress around Bob Dole's neck. Now we didn't see it in these excerpts, but he seemed to generally today endorse--he said the Republican Congress delivered on its promises, Bill Clinton vetoed them. Is that the right approach to take toward, in terms of his identity vis-a-vis the Republican Congress?
MR. BAUER: Well, look, Newt Gingrich has some high negatives, as he would admit, because he's been leading some tremendous change, and anybody that does that gets high negatives, but when you look at the match-ups in the Congress, the Republicans are very close to the Democrats. In fact, they're in better shape on people getting ready to vote Republican for the Congress than Bob Dole is right now in one-on-one match-ups with Clinton, so I think it would be a mistake to run from the Republican Congress. There is a record there. I think you can make the case. The taxes would be lower. Government would be smaller, and economic growth would be greater if Bill Clinton hadn't blocked a lot of things that this Congress has tried to get through, so I, I think Bob Dole is doing the right thing to embrace this Congress and say that he'll continue that revolution.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree, Ann?
MS. STONE: I'll tell you, what he's got to be able to do is communicate the message of this Congress differently than this Congress has communicated it, because the message coming out of this Congress has been a killer for Republicans. A lot of our programs are on target of what needs to be done. The way it's being communicated is so bad. You talk about--he talked about that Republicans have compassion. Saying it and saying it in such a way that people believe it are two different things. And the way in the excerpts that doesn't sell, there's got to be more to be able to convince people that this Congress is on target and does have compassion and does understand the needs of individuals. I happen to believe they do. It's just their communication of their goals is so awful.
MR. KRISTOL: Yeah, but I'd really come back to Gary's--in the beltway--no one likes the Congress, Gingrich is terribly unpopular. Dole should separate himself from the Congress and follow D'Amato's strategy, go to the center and distance himself, and I know some in his campaign are urging him to do that; I think it would be a terrible mistake, Gary is right, if you look at the generic congressional ballot, do you intend to vote for a Republican or Democrat for Congress, I think the new poll out tonight has the Democrats up three, has Clinton up seventeen over Dole. The Republican Congress is running okay against the Democratic Congress, needs to be a little better, they need to do a better job in lots of ways. I think they made some mistakes obviously, but if Dole distances himself from the Republican Congress, you'll get the worst of both worlds. You'll get a personality match-up between Dole and Clinton, which Clinton will win, the age issue will kick in. It'll be very tough for Dole to win that, and if Dole abandons the Congress, you could get a blowout at the congressional level--so that is 1948--where Tom Dewey ran away from the Congress, he didn't win his own election, and the Democratic President ran against the Congress, and it had a nightmare scenario for Republicans, just to throw a little cold water on this what I think otherwise has been a pretty good week for Republicans. The nightmare scenario is you have three big debates between Dole and Clinton. Clinton just hammers Newt Gingrich and the Republican Congress, Dole doesn't defend it, Dole doesn't do that well himself in the debates, Dole loses, and you have unanswered to 80 million people watching these hammer blows against the Republican Congress. I think it has to defend at least the intent and the broad thrust of the Republican congressional agenda.
MS. STONE: But he has to communicate it differently.
MARGARET WARNER: Well, let Mike in here for a minute.
MR. DEAVER: Right. I've just been thinking about this, and one of the things that yesterday has done is it allows Dole to have a focused single message. He no longer is a party leader here in the Congress, the legislature, where you've got 300 people talking every day. He now is the focus of the Republican Party all by himself, and I agree with Bill. I don't think he can abandon the Republican Party. They've done what they said they were going to do, and that's saying itself is something to contrast with the Democratic Party.
MR. BAUER: Sen. D'Amato's rather bizarre attacks on the Republican Congress may be playing in certain precincts in New York, but it appears that his strategy for the party is to form a circular firing squad. And Bob Dole is right to have ignored D'Amato's advice on this and to remember that people did vote for smaller government, lower taxes, and economic growth, and traditional values. I think Bob Dole can deliver that message if he speaks from his heart, and it looks like he's making a start at it.
MR. DEAVER: Then why have Bill Clinton's numbers gone up? Because he has adopted those Republican positions over the last six months.
MARGARET WARNER: And do you think a lot of the internal sniping that's been going on in your party recently will now abate?
MR. KRISTOL: I think a lot depends on the next two, three weeks. I mean, I think if Dole really does nothing special two weeks from now we'll be in a situation where people will look around and say, well, we used to have an inspiring candidate who was a senator, and now we have an inspiring candidate who's an ex-senator. It's no better. If Dole gets out and gives a couple of major speeches, defines clear differences with Clinton, yeah, I think you'll se a lot of Republicans and conservatives rallying behind Dole.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. We have to leave it there. Thank you all very much.