The news about Ross Perot abandoning his campaign reached me in Barcelona, where I was vacationing last week. It did not improve my humor or my holiday. I'd left for Spain amidst rumors that his campaign managers might quit, which would not have been so bad, but it never occurred to me that Perot himself would consider pulling out without a fight, going AWOL and abandoning his troops, as A.M. Rosenthal put it in the NY Times this morning. From my vantage point, he could still have easily won a three-way race. From his view, obviously, it seemed hopeless. My guess is that he saw the team he'd hastily assembled did not know how to handle his kind of candidacy and he did not believe he could either start from scratch or return to the kind of non-traditional guerrilla campaigning that got him off the ground to begin with. He could have, but was told that he could not.
I'd originally cheered when Ed Rollins signed on as campaign co-chairman, as it confirmed my sense that Perot was prepared to go for growth, a la the Jack Kemp-wing of the GOP, in a big way. Rollins made no secret of the fact that he would urge Perot to invite Kemp onto the ticket. Weeks before he'd met Rollins, Perot had already reached out to Ted Forstmann, a Kemp follower who should be Treasury Secretary in anyone's administration. Within hours after Rollins accepted the job, he told a mutual friend he would soon have Forstmann chairing Perot's economic advisory committee. Instead, Rollins dropped the ball, allowing one of Jimmy Carter's budgeteers, John White, to dominate the economic planning team, and Rollins concentrated on getting his old pals at Hal Riney & Partners to do empty-headed, glossy TV spots at $100,000 a pop. Rollins now would have us believe Perot loved the spots but was too cheap to pay the production costs. My guess is that Perot realized they were simply a waste of money at any price and didn't want to tell Rollins straight out. Meanwhile, the economic plan White cobbled together was as bad as anything produced by the Beltway crowd, and according to several accounts, is one of the reasons Perot decided to pull out. As is his style, Perot gave White an A for effort, but pointedly refused to sign off on the plan as he surely sees it merely would add another several hundred pages to the Federal Tax Code. The Establishment press would love to see Perot give it his blessing and has practically said he really loves it, deep down in his heart. Nobody seems to have noticed that its call for big tax increases flies directly in the face of Perot's vow that he would not raise taxes unless the USA went to war again.
Add to this the colossal blunder by Rollins in publicly praising Bill Clinton's calculated insult of Jesse Jackson, a move that killed any chance of winning Jackson's endorsement, splitting off a huge chunk of the Democratic Party's taken-for-granted black vote, and insuring Clinton's defeat in November. (In a May 27 memo to Perot, I said Rollins on balance would be a great asset to the campaign as long as he were managed and kept off television, working on the nuts and bolts of the campaign.) Perot tried to recoup, winning over Rev. Calvin Butts of the important First Abyssinian Baptist Church of Harlem, who was offended by Clinton's playing of the race card. When Perot tried to reach further into the black community, addressing the convention of the NAACP, he purposely avoided his political handlers, and personally wrote a heartfelt speech that was immediately denounced by the Establishment media as being condescending . My guess is that Perot, who thought his speech would be received favorably by the NAACP, was demoralized at the storm it created given the media play -- led by the Times. Taken together, this was one shell-shocked individual, not Abe Rosenthal's scared rabbit going AWOL.
Where do Perot's supporters go now? Maybe to Bush, maybe to Clinton, maybe nowhere. For the first time in my adult life, I'm going to seriously have to consider not voting. If President Bush wants my vote, he's going to have to court it. If he wants to win, he is certainly going to have to court it. The track he is on now is not going to do it. He doesn't realize it yet, but he will. Jim Baker, who is coming over to the White House to rescue the President, will explain it to him.
As long as Perot had made it a three-way race, remember, the Reaganauts were irrelevant to both political parties. The President would "consolidate his base" with pure right-wing "family values" and keep Jack Kemp and the supply siders in a deep freeze. Governor Clinton could win by "consolidating his base," posturing as an economic "moderate" and freezing his left wing in place. The Ruling Parties would take turns dumping on Perot to make sure he would get no more than 20% of the vote, including mine.
Now that Perot has once again made it a two-way race, the Reaganauts are once again suddenly relevant. When James Baker III asks himself how the President can get from 33% of the vote to more than 50%, it should not take him more than a New York minute to figure out that he has to win back the Reaganauts of both parties. How does he win back the Reaganauts? He must ask them how. And because JBIII cares about winning more than he cares about how the game is played, there is a chance that he will even ring up the HUD Secretary and ask his advice on what to do, and then take that advice.
The last thing Jack Kemp will tell JBIII is to replace Vice President Quayle. What has to change are policies and commitments. The Wall Street Journal story this morning about plans afoot to scrap the capital gains tax cut from the economic agenda is old news. If Perot had stayed in the race, we can be sure the President's handlers would have easily persuaded him to do just that, wanting to avoid a skirmish with Clinton over the "fairness" issue. Now, with Perot out of the race, JBIII knows the President cannot avoid a fight over the fairness issue if he wants to win a majority of votes in the Electoral College. When asked, Kemp will tell him exactly how to do it. He will not tell JBIII that it will be necessary to replace Nick Brady as Treasury Secretary. My guess is that JBIII will soon draw that conclusion himself and then has only to figure out how to advise the President on how to accept Brady's resignation. We've heard from good sources that Brady has already offered his resignation three times and has been turned down by his friend, the President, three times. If JBIII comes up with the right replacement for Brady, there's a much greater chance that his boss will win a majority of votes in the Electoral College. The replacement would not be Jack Kemp, which would be a bit much for JBIII to swallow.
Bill Clinton doesn't have to do anything right now but sit on his lead, a huge lead. But if JBIII makes a run at the Reaganauts, he can also make a run at some of the taken-for-granted folks in the New Deal coalition. It can be done. But it will take a lot of courting. Unless Clinton wants to turn himself into another version of Carter-Mondale-Dukakis, he too will have to step up his advances to the Reaganauts. He might even get my vote, if he plays it right. It's been a long time since I've been courted. I'm ready.