A journalist called me this morning, said he was doing a story on whom the supply-siders were supporting, and asked me where I stood. I told him it was still possible that I could vote for President Bush, Governor Clinton, or Ross Perot, depending upon what they do in the next week. Last night, it occurred to me that Perot could actually win it. Let's discuss the possibilities. First Perot.
When Ross Perot dropped out of the presidential race last July I was flabbergasted. I could put myself in his shoes and see how dispirited he could have become over the hammering he was getting in the press. I watched while his Beltway professionals, led by Ed Rollins, mangled his campaign through sheer stupidity. But this was not enough to put him over the edge. There had to be something else I didn't understand about Perot. Now I know. Before I'd left for a week in Barcelona, I'd written him a memo urging him not to worry about all this, especially the beating he was taking as a result of his "you people" comment to the NAACP. Black leaders I'd been talking to were not at all distressed by the remark. It was the white political establishment that was gleeful in being able to cast him as an insensitive semi-racist. He could still recoup, I argued, if he hung on and re-tooled. Perot's revelation about his daughter —aired last night on "60 Minutes" — is the missing piece to my puzzle.
I've known since I began looking into the Perot phenomenon last March that Perot has been fanatical about the security of his children. His next door neighbor in Dallas, Fred Bucy, an old friend of mine, told me then that Perot's children had never had their photos in the local newspapers while they were growing up, because Perot used his influence to keep them out. Perot's personal courage is beyond question. His family is his only known weakness. In my June 11 paper, "A Perot Presidency," I worried that the Ruling Class would go to extreme lengths to destroy him, because of the enormous threat his presidency would mean to it. It would only begin with character assassination. The Establishment press is now playing his story about the threats to his daughter's wedding and character as evidence of his paranoia. This is the same press that a week ago certified the Bush administration had investigated Governor Clinton's mother. It is entirely plausible to me that somewhere in either party the idea was hatched to warn Perot that his daughter's life would be made miserable, as a way of striking at this, his Achilles heel. To the slimeballs who abound in presidential politics, anything goes. Remember, Richard Nixon did not order the Watergate burglary or compilation of an "enemies' list." He simply had people around him to read his mind.
In the week left to the presidential campaign, anything goes. I could previously not imagine a Perot victory because his quitting last summer did not add up. It got to 90%, but the extra 10% had to be a flaw that would prevent him from going all the way. The electorate is very tough in these matters. It is now conceivable once again to imagine Perot winning next week, if he can fill in a few more blanks. The most important is the Stockdale Problem. The electorate will continue to have a hard time allowing Admiral Stockdale to wind up a heartbeat from the presidency. Perot never intended this for Stockdale, who was merely a stand-in to meet ballot requirements earlier this year. Perot intended that after the GOP convention in August he would have a convention of his volunteers, and a running mate would be selected to replace Stockdale. He made it clear he wanted his VP to serve as chief operating officer. The signals were also clear that he had his heart set on HUD Secretary Jack Kemp, which is one of the reasons that lay behind my forecast in June that Perot would win. Coming back Into the race so late, Perot could not replace Stockdale with anyone of stature until he had rehabilitated himself in the public's mind, as he has now been doing.
In the next week, Perot need not go into detail on his plans for the economy in order to get into serious contention. He need only resolve these personnel questions. If the electorate were to see that he could govern, by virtue of having people around him in a Perot Administration capable of the administration of government, he could surge beyond the 20% now lined up behind his protest candidacy. He would have to indicate, I think, that Admiral Stockdale would resign after the election, permitting the naming of a replacement who would have to be confirmed by the new Congress. Remember, this is how we got President Ford, nominated by President Nixon after Spiro Agnew's forced resignation. It would be no disgrace to Admiral Stockdale to bow out. Perot need only tell us in advance whom he has in mind. If I were Perot, I would throw out three names — Kemp, Paul Tsongas, and Jesse Jackson. I might even simply tell the voters I would ask Kemp to be chief operating officer and would ask Jesse Jackson to be vice president. As Kemp, Tsongas and Jackson are each committed to either Bush or Clinton, they would demur. But Perot is only saying that if he would win, he would need to ask the best people of both parties to help him govern. If he were to win, of course Kemp would accept the assignment as chief operating officer; Jackson would accept the assignment of winning Senate confirmation as Veep, and Almost Any American would accept a draft into the Perot Cabinet. Think about it. Do you have the slightest doubt that Perot could persuade James Baker III to return as Secretary of State, if he chose? Perot has it in his power to play this name game to the hilt. Naming Kemp (the most popular white in black America) and Jackson as Veep would bring Perot 95% of the black vote, you could be sure of that, bringing an end to the Clinton candidacy. This is where Perot seemed headed last summer, when Ed Rollins fouled up that chance by peeing over the Rev. Jackson on national television.
I don't have any idea whether Perot is contemplating these kinds of moves. You can see, though, why there is suddenly such incredible nervousness in both Establishment parties about his resurgence. They see the possibilities. They also realize that almost the entire electorate is in the same position I am in, ready to change sides at the last minute depending upon the information the candidates give them at the last minute. For all their talk, the candidates have been very stingy with their information thusfar and the voters are demanding more from each of them.
As I've made abundantly clear, I believe the President is not going to rehabilitate himself with the American people unless he makes it absolutely clear Richard Darman will not be Treasury Secretary in a second term. He can do this by saying so, or by telling us who it will be. Nor can he budge from the 30% range unless Jim Baker, still the invisible man, gets off his keester and commits his prestige to a specific growth agenda in the first hundred days. In this morning's Wall Street Journal, Richard Brookhiser makes the case for his Bush vote on the grounds that he will get rid of Darman, although that is not yet certain, and that the President still gives rhetorical support to a capital gains tax cut. These are pretty weak reeds, eh? We also have Robert Shapiro on the page, telling us we should vote for Bill Clinton because Clinton favors Economic Growth!!! Sorry. The outlines are in some ways promising. Shapiro thumbs his nose at Keynesian pump priming and hints at an anti-inflationary monetary policy. But there is simply not enough information here to get my vote. Shapiro (and Clinton) are trying to win over the business community with winks and nods and nudges. The only way I could vote for Clinton at this point is if I knew for sure he would commit himself to indexing capital gains on a historic basis ~ the one action that would offset the foo foo "investment" gimmicks Shapiro is promising.
We voters, all of us, have to be tough in these last eight days before the election, because it is the last chance we will have at the White House until 1996. We should thank Ross Perot for making this possible, for if he were not shaking things up, we can be sure the Republican and Democratic nominees would be giving us almost no information at all on how they would govern. They each want to get past the voters, so they can go on slicing things up as usual. This is the essence of The Establishment, which looks upon democratic institutions as necessary evils. It was not the breaking of his "Read My Lips" pledge that was the problem, Richard Darman told The Washington Post's Bob Woodward. It was the making of the pledge! How can civilization survive if politicians are forced to tell the people what they will do and then do ill.
We are in for one slam bang finish to this campaign. This last week will seem like a lifetime. The pollsters tell us only a small percentage of people are "undecided," but my guess is that only the immediate families of the three candidates are firmly decided. With the history of the world at stake, we should celebrate the magic of the political marketplace by keeping our options open as we squeeze the last bit of information out of the three candidates. I'll let you know the day after how I voted and why. Not a moment sooner.