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MAY 15, 1996
Senate Majority leader Bob Dole announced today that he will leave Capitol Hill. In recent weeks, Democrats made the Kansas Republican's job of running the Senate diffcult and hindered his presidential campaign. Now the presumed Republican presidential candidate can work full-time to close the 20 point lead President Clinton has in national polls. A battle for the senate leadership is expected after Dole officially leaves the Senate on June 11. In light of Dole's surprising move, Elizabeth Farnsworth gets some reactions from NewsHour regulars syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. Click here for a Kwame Holman report on Senator Dole's announcement and reactions to it.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What insight can you add into this, Paul?
PAUL GIGOT, Wall Street Journal: I don't know. I think this was a terrific and risky decision by the Senator. What he did was really--I think he's trying to start the campaign all over again. He's basically saying now I am going to start my campaign for the White House. I've been dealing in the Senate, you've been caught in that fog of what passes for war up there, caught in cloture votes and in bad compromises, and the tit for tat that so many Americans don't like about Washington. They don't like that. They don't like the way the sausage is made, and Bob Dole was saying to people, I'm going to give it all up, and I would have bet my political career on this run for the White House. And he was trying to say to Republicans who had been nervous about the campaign so far, look, I'm putting it all on the line, I'm serious about beating this man. If I'm willing to risk this, it's time for you all now to get behind me.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What do you think, Mark? Is that what's behind the decision, not wanting to be seen making sausage in the Senate?
MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: I think Bob Dole--the Senate became the tar baby for Bob Dole, became a place where he got stuck. This was the place where he demonstrated his effectiveness, his leadership. In every poll, even the ones he's trailing, he consistently leads President Clinton in measurements of effectiveness and leadership and strength of convictions, but the Senate--Paul's right--it was clouding that. The Democrats had figured out a way to befuddle him, to tie him down, to frustrate him in even something as simple as repeal of the gas tax. I mean, I think it's probably a good bet right now that there won't be a minimum wage increase and there won't be a gas tax cut in 1996. They've figured out the stalemate, and that was so therefore it wasn't working for him. He was leading an institution that has 65 percent disapproval. That's the Congress. Now being the leader of that is not much help. You know, it's like having the best Edsel dealership in, you know, in all of the Midwest. I mean, it isn't going anywhere. And that became a problem for Bob Dole.
I think today it was a bold act. I certainly had no, no advanced warning on it or inkling that it was going to happen. The question was were you going to give it up, were you going to turn it over, or--but to leave the Senate, he cast himself, I thought, as sort of Gary Cooper. He was the "I'm the one guy without, without anybody else with me," it was just a little bit like High Noon, I'll stand up against everybody else, you want to pull all the way, I would have if I were he, and as a candidate, you can control your background. He should have had all those suits out of there. He didn't need Gingrich, Newt Gingrich, the Speaker. He didn't need all those other Senators up there. It should have just been he and his wife and daughter and simply say that. I mean, that was the message he was delivering: It's me, Bob Dole, the person, that's the campaign. It's not a campaign of great ideas, revolutionary notions, it's me against him.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What do you think about that? It was a very interesting speech. He said, "I will seek the presidency with nothing to fall back on. I will forego the privileges of the Senate. I trust in the hard way."
MR. GIGOT: Well, he's trying to remind people that he wasn't born in the Senate, that the White House wants this election to be about not just one incumbent and a challenger, Bob Dole wants it to be about two incumbents, Bill Clinton and Bob Dole, the incumbent in the Senate. Bob Dole is trying to remind people that he wasn't born in the Senate, that he had a hard scrabble background, that he was a man with a war record, he was a man who came up from humble roots, that he can't just claim, like they tried about George Bush, that he was a typical story of Republican privilege. Bob Dole is somebody of character. The Gary Cooper line is a great one by Mark because that is part of the camp. And there's something else that was not just Congress being unpopular. Washington is unpopular. Bob Dole wants to stand for changing this city.
If the debate is over tinkering with the status quo, well, reelect Bill Clinton. He has to make the argument that the Republican Party wants to take power out of Washington and give it back to the states, give it back to citizens. It muddles that message to be sitting in the well of the Senate fighting over this and that. To get outside of Washington to make that case is, is a much better way to make the case.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What are the risks he runs? He will be out of Washington. There's still an awful lot of attention on Washington. Does he run a risk of losing the spotlight?
MR. SHIELDS: I don't think he runs the risk of losing the spotlight, I really don't. I mean, the spotlight that he had now was, was on the Senate floor, and I don't think that was particularly helpful. One thing I think that's been overlooked in much of the analysis is he's now freed from the Senate rules on speech making, therefore, he can go anywhere and speak to any group, so--and if Bob Dole's campaign thinks it is important for him to speak in San Jose, San Francisco, and San Diego, in three consecutive days, I'm pretty sure they could book him and book him before pretty good crowds and get coverage and people to cover the expenses for him.
But just one point, I do think the Gary Cooper--not to torture it--it's also that Bob Dole is not verbal. He's not a verbally agile man. I mean, he's the strong, silent type, but the unpopularity of the Republican Congress is an enormous disability. A hundred days into 1995 the Republican Congress in the "Wall Street Journal" Poll was 47 to 40 favorable, which was the highest rating Congress had had in a long time. Right now, it is 65 to 26 unfavorable. I mean, that is the swing of 46 points, and Bob Dole, who then the spring of 1995 had a two to one favorable rating in the country now is barely favorable, and it's because of his identification as a leader of an unpopular institution.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So, Paul, how does this change the dynamics of the campaign?
MR. GIGOT: Well, I--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What will the President have to do differently?
MR. GIGOT: Well, I think the--it depends on what Bob Dole follows up this with. I assume that what you'll see emerging here is something that is identifiable as the Bob Dole agenda, an economic growth agenda for example, ideas that are not associated with the Congress but that are associated with the Dole campaign that he can call his own, and I think the Dole campaign will try to engage the Clinton administration and the White House on those issues. The White House strategy has been just to, you know, really run against Newt Gingrich. I mean, that's essentially the strategy, run against Newt Gingrich, and if there's a cyclone in Bangladesh, it's the Dole-Gingrich Congress that did it. I think they're going to have to change their strategy because suddenly Bob Dole's going to get out of that, and he's going to--he has to represent Republican reform ideas. But he's not going to be caught in a way that makes him easily caricatured.
MR. SHIELDS: One thing, and I think Paul's absolutely right here. What Bob Dole did today was to get our attention. Now he has to say something. He really--he commanded the attention. The act itself, if nothing follows, that establishes the rationale for a Dole candidacy, that establishes his independence, in my judgment not only from Bill Clinton but from the Congress, I think it has to be a uniqueness about Bob Dole in what he is saying, what he is offering, and the vision that he offers that's different from the status quo, different from the Republican Contract [with America] and different from Bill Clinton. I think that's crucial to the Dole candidacy. He now has the microphone and the spotlight and the stage. He's got to take advantage of it, and his time is short. It's not a long window he has.
MR. GIGOT: One of the things that has occurred to some Republicans about today is that one of the real beefs about Bob Dole and a fair point is that he's always thought as a legislator, a master one but a legislator. He's always--and legislators play poker. They bluff. They deceive sometimes. They keep their cards close. They don't really tell you--they're always looking for the--for the next move. They always know there's going to be a tomorrow. That's not how you win the White House. That's how you pass a bill in Congress. How you win the White House is with clarity, conviction, straight ahead. Bob Dole acted today like an executive, not like a legislator. He moved the ball down field. He said--he caught everybody by surprise and said, all right, I'm going to do this, I'm going to take this risk, and if that's the attitude he takes to this agenda that Mark points out, then I think it's going to be a very interesting race.
MR. SHIELDS: Bob Dole's task also is almost like Bill Clinton's was in 1992. Bill Clinton had to say how different he was from Democratic failures of the past or Democratic inadequacies of the past, or Democratic candidacies that hadn't worked. Bob Dole must do the same. He has to--he has to make himself a unique person to the country, and, and spell out and flesh out his leadership ideas, and I think that's--I think that's the challenge that awaits him tonight.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Now who's likely to succeed him?
MR. SHIELDS: Well, I mean, I think you have to give -- the Republicans are essentially a party that prefers seniority, that likes to promote from within. I think I wouldn't bet against Trent Lott, the whip. He's a guy who's been a whip in the House, in the Republican House. He came over and toppled Alan Simpson, who had been the Republican Senate Whip. He is not to be underestimated but certainly the other two who are mentioned, Sen. Don Nickles of Oklahoma, who is the closest thing to a Bob Dole protege in the Senate, and ironically, uh, and ironically, Mississippi, which is not thought of as the political farm system of the United States up until now, has three leaders of the Republican Party--Trent Lott, the Senate whip, Haley Barbour, the national chairman, and Thad Cochran, uh, the, the senior Senator who is the third person mentioned.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What do you think?
MR. GIGOT: I think Trent Lott is the overwhelming favorite right now. He--my reporting today suggested he may even have the votes already and Don Nickles, who is widely thought to challenge him, may not even challenge him. There's some rumor that Pete Domenici, uh, who is a friend of Bob Dole's, a Senator from New Mexico, budget chairman, might still do it, and Thad Cochran is looking around, but I think the overwhelming favorite right now is Trent Lott, and what's fascinating about that is that Newt Gingrich was once Trent Lott's protege in the House before Trent Lott went over to the Senate.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Senator Dole also has announced, I think it was today or yesterday, that he will wait until August to name a running mate. Did that surprise you at all?
MR. SHIELDS: Got to have some drama, suspense.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You think that's the main reason?
MR. SHIELDS: Yeah. Otherwise, otherwise, I mean, people get tuned out for the Olympics and never come back. I mean, I mean, if they've got a running mate named before the Olympics, I don't think you do anything politically before the Olympics in terms of personnel. I think one thing that might happen, quite frankly, whether it's Trent Lott or whoever it is, they've postponed the decision--I think you may see the Congress going out early because I think what--when I say early, I wouldn't be surprised to 'em go out on the 1st of August, because I think, I think there is a sense that nobody is going to get anything done in 1996.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mm-hmm.
MR. GIGOT: And the Republicans are finding that they are better off when they're back in their home states, in their districts, making the argument as opposed to letting the AFL-CIO ads knock the heck out of them on, on this or that. When they're defending their own program, they're doing a lot better.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And just looking at this whole decision in summary, are you pretty convinced, each of you, I'll start with you Mark, that this will really give a jumpstart to the Senator's campaign?
MR. SHIELDS: It gives--it gives everybody sort of a new look at Bob Dole. I mean, he'll say, hey, gee, this guy isn't--he wasn't born, bred, raised in the Senate. He didn't go to sleep in a toga. You know, that this--this is a different kind of guy, and uh, that this is really something significant. So I think what he does is he gets our attention. What he does next determines whether it jumpstarts or continues to sort of stay in neutral.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Paul, briefly.
MR. GIGOT: It's a big morale booster for Republicans who'd been down and depressed, and this basically says, wait a minute, Bob Dole gave a pretty good speech today, he did it without reading it, and he, and he basically got out of this mess in Washington and is now able to make the case. What happens next depends upon the case he makes.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, thank you both.
MR. SHIELDS: Thank you.
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