THE MacNEIL/LEHRER REPORT
Robert Dole Profile
June 4, 1979
Robert MacNeil looks back at Bob Dole's life
Elizabeth Dole discusses her role in the campaign and what her role would be as first lady
Dole's campaign staff discusses the nuts and bolts of running for President.
JIM LEHRER: The man who once quipped that "a Republican has to have a sense of humor because there are so few of us" is with us tonight in Washington, Senator Bob Dole of Kansas. Senator, are you consciously setting out to get rid of that short-tongue, hatchet-tongue image that came out of '76?
Sen. ROBERT DOLE: Well, I think probably in that's true. With an asset like Elizabeth, that helps right off the bat, and that tones me down a bit. But I would say without being defensive that we had a certain role to play in '76; we had, as Stub Spencer could say -- and he was our campaign manager -- a rose garden strategy, where President Ford occupied the rose garden and I went out into the briar patch to stir things up; and we knew we'd be scratched up a bit, it was that kind of a campaign when you're behind. But it was over and there was a certain amount of scapegoating -- I guess they faulted me some; some faulted Nelson Rockefeller because we didn't carry New York, some faulted Connally because we lost Texas, some didn't believe Reagan worked hard enough, and then finally it came full circle that maybe Ford didn't do enough himself. But we made a great effort, I think we were a good team, as President Ford says so often; we were a good team, we gave it all we had, we almost won. And it would have been, you know, nearly a miracle had we done it.
JIM LEHRER: Part of that old image, of course, from '76 had to do with your sense of humor. You're not going to drop the one-liner ...
Sen. ROBERT DOLE: I don't want to change my personality. I mean, if people are asleep during your speech it doesn't do a great deal of good. I like to think that people are awake when I start talking and that they may doze off during the middle of it, but I hate to put them to sleep before I open my mouth. And so my view is if you can laugh at yourself and say things that don't attack anyone personally, to sort of, you know, get people up after a big heavy meal and a couple of speakers, that you're going to do very well, they're going to listen to you.
JIM LEHRER: All right. You've said that you're not going to criticize anybody in your campaign, including President Carter. Why is that?
Sen. ROBERT DOLE: Well, I mean from the standpoint of not criticize him personally, which I haven't done; but accountability's something else, and it seems to me that I should be accountable for what I say and what I do, and certainly President Carter should be held accountable. From that standpoint, we'll be asking for an accounting from time to time.
JIM LEHRER: What do you have, Bob Dole, that Jimmy Carter does not have, in terms of being President of the United States?
Sen. ROBERT DOLE: The bottom line would be experience. Of course, he served as governor of his state and in the state legislature; I've served in the state legislature and the Congress, I've dealt with federal programs now for eighteen and a half years; I've been in on the action, I'm ' the ranking Republican on Finance, which handles taxes and health care and welfare, social security, the trade legislation; I've been an active spokesman for farmers. I mean, I think I really understand what makes you effective as a legislator and as an administrator. I've been able to work with Democrats, whether it's the late Senator Humphrey or George McGovern or whoever; so I believe getting along with people, being able to compromise, and at the same time being my own man.
JIM LEHRER: One of your campaign press releases that I read today talks of replacing grits with guts in the White House. What does that mean?
Sen. ROBERT DOLE: I haven't seen that one, is that one of mine?
JIM LEHRER: Yeah, right. (Laughter.)
Sen. ROBERT DOLE: That's a good idea. I wish I'd thought of that. (Laughs.) I assume that's some reference to President Carter.
JIM LEHRER: Right, absolutely. Is that the image that you want to proj ect?
Sen. ROBERT DOLE: I want to be a stand-up guy in the right sense. In other words, as I said in Russell, Kansas, I want people to know my weaknesses so they can accommodate for them; I want them to know my strengths so they can rely on them. None of us are perfect, and certainly I'm not the perfect candidate; but I believe I'm a stand-up person. If I make up my mind, I'll tell the American people, I'll provide the leadership, I will not vacillate; and I really believe there is a search for that right now.
JIM LEHRER: You just went through your experience and your strong points. What do you see as your weaknesses?
Sen. ROBERT DOLE: I think perhaps we've started a bit late; we'll be moving up in the polls. I would say there are probably, as I view it, four principal contenders and I'm in that four. I don't believe President Ford will be a candidate, in the primaries at least, so we're moving very quickly. The image problem I don't believe will be a lasting problem. After all, it was my role in '76, I hope I played it well. Now I'm the candi-
date, I will set the tone, and if I should adopt a stance that somehow disturbs the American people, I'll learn it very early.
JIM LEHRER: Why should the Republicans choose you over Ronald Reagan, say?
Sen. ROBERT DOLE: Well, without any -- I think just on the positive side, I think I have the right philosophy, I believe I'm about the right age, I've been very active in the Republican Party, I've worked very well with the Reagan Republicans and the Ford ...
JIM LEHRER: Those are of course code phrases that Mr. Reagan is older than you and was at one time a Democrat?
Sen. ROBERT DOLE: No, I think that's great. I want to bring more Democrats. I think it's good that Governor Connally changed parties. I think that's a plus for us. It's good that Governor Reagan changed parties; that's a plus for the Republican Party. My wife has come over to the Republican Party; I mean, she's sort of shifted from Democrat to independent to Republican. I'm now working on her mother. (Laughter.)
JIM LEHRER: She took an interim step.
Sen. ROBERT DOLE: But I want to bring more people into our party; it's certainly not a code word.
JIM LEHRER: But specifically weighing, what would you tell a Republican, though, who says, "Hey, look, I've been for Reagan. Why should I switch to you?" I mean, what are the negatives of Reagan and the negatives of Connally? You're not going to talk about the negatives of these two men in the campaign?
Sen. ROBERT DOLE: I'm going to talk about Bob Dole, the next President, the positive candidate, who really believes -- and I say this in all sincerity -- that we're going to be elected in 1980, not just because of what we're against as a party or what Bob Dole's against, but what I'm for, and have I been effective or is it just a campaign stance that I'm taking to try to attract certain people to our party? I believe that with a lot of hard work and organization, in three or four months you're going to see a change in the polls and we're going to be moving up, and I believe there'll be some Reagan slippage. I mean, when he becomes an active candidate, or when anybody becomes an active candidate who's been around quite a while and been in a lot of campaigns, there's going to be erosion. If not, he'll be the nominee.
JIM LEHRER: What do you see as the Dole constituency right now?
Sen. ROBERT DOLE: I think the Dole constituency is made up from maybe starting with Republicans -- I've been the chairman of my party, I've been one of the hard workers, I've been all over this country almost every year-, every weekend I'll go to help a state senator or a sheriff or someone running for governor or Congress. In the long run, you know, people like that; I mean, I think I'm appreciated by the Republican Party. I think, as Tom Bell indicated very well, people want to know that I'm a serious candidate. We've crossed that bridge, we've made our announcement. Specific constituencies, I think, would include handicapped Americans who are looking for leadership; veterans -- I'm very strong with the Legion, the VFW, the Disabled American Veterans; farm people and rural America, plus a lot of work I've done for New York City and other areas through the Finance Committee I believe in the final roundup will give me a broad-based support that I believe I need. I've worked with black Americans, Hispanic Americans, Jewish Americans -- it just seems to me that there isn't any group out there gunning, politically speaking, for Bob Dole.
JIM LEHRER: A couple of things on the issues, the SALT-II treaty, for one. You recently warned that it could backfire on the Republicans if they turned the treaty into a partisan issue. Is that based on some polling that you have done about the way the American people feel about the SALT treaties?
Sen. ROBERT DOLE: No, it was based on the feeling that most of us who might want to do that or at least might have that tendency voted for SALT-I. Republicans supported that in great numbers, and if we just did a reverse now because we had a Democrat in the White House, it would be, I think, a tactical mistake. We all have questions about SALT and about SALT-II, but it's certainly not going to be a party position; we have Republicans who have indicated their opposition to it, we have, I think, some who've indicated support for it. Most of us are in the uncommitted category.
JIM LEHRER: You're still uncommitted.
Sen. ROBERT DOLE: I'm uncommitted; as I said, I think I'm straight up. I haven't tried to deceive anyone, I've chaired breakfast meetings with Henry Kissinger and General Haig and Lord Chalfont, who now advises Margaret Thatcher, and Fritz Kramer, who's been an advisor at the Pentagon; we've tried to learn. I've gone to Geneva., I sat in on the session with the Russians and the American delegation trying to learn; I did almost on a daily basis. I haven't made a judgment yet.
JIM LEHRER: When are you going to make the judgment?
Sen. ROBERT DOLE: I would guess it would be several months. I don't even see the Senate voting on it this year.
JIM LEHRER: Have you toyed with the possibility of being the one conservative in the Republican nomination race that would support SALT?
Sen. ROBERT DOLE: I really haven't toyed with that; I mean, I've...
JIM LEHRER: I mean political ...
Sen. ROBERT DOLE: ...You get all these little things dancing around in your head sometimes, but ...
JIM LEHRER: Is that one dancing?
Sen. ROBERT DOLE: Well, it's sort of a waltz now, I mean, not fast.
JIM LEHRER: (Laughing.) Okay. But it's a possibility, right? You haven't made up your mind.
Sen. ROBERT DOLE: I think it's a possibility. I've told my friends, you know, with appropriate amendments I think some of us could support SALT.
Now, my previous statements have been -- I think Secretary Vance indicated to someone he thought Bob Dole was for the treaty. Well, I didn't say that. I suggested I was totally open-minded, I wanted to be persuaded. All I want to know is, is this in the interest of the United States? Is it in our interest -- I know it's got to be in the Soviets' interest -- but what do we lose, what do we gain, is it in our total interest, and if so, I can vote for it. It's probably going to take some amendments.
JIM LEHRER: Do you think that a Senator who voted for SALT-II could be nominated by the Republican Party for President?
Sen. ROBERT DOLE: Well, again, it depends on how we finally vote on SALT. I didn't support the Panama Canal, I didn't believe the amendments good enough. But if SALT were properly amended or if in the process of debate and hearings we're persuaded it doesn't need amendment, then I think we have an obligation to support it. I mean, it seems to me that we go back to the Versailles Treaty in 1919, and we saw some stubborn Senators and a stubborn President, it may have been a disaster for us down the road in World War II. It cost us dearly. So it just seems to me that my obligation is to be straight up, not to play games, and try to find out as much as I can about SALT.
JIM LEHRER: Senator, you're in this race to stay, for President, is that right?
Sen. ROBERT DOLE: I'm in the race to stay -- we're in the race to stay, I might add. I believe we have the makings of a good organization, with Bob and Tom in New York and Elizabeth here.
JIM LEHRER: In a word, would you run for Vice President again if asked?
Sen. ROBERT DOLE: Well, I haven't been asked, but you don't run for that office. I'm running for President, we're going to be successful, we have great organization in New Hampshire and Iowa, we're working in Florida; it looks like a good year for Bob Dole in 1980.
JIM LEHRER: Thank you both very much.