In an editorial Monday morning, The Wall Street Journal celebrates the idea that Richard Lamm may be the Reform Partyís presidential candidate. It does so on the assumption that Lamm, the former Democratic governor of Colorado who declared his candidacy in Denver yesterday, will drain votes away from President Clinton and help Bob Dole win in November. Sorry, boys. In a two-way match-up of Clinton vs. Dole, the President is favored by 12-15 points. If Lamm is the RP nominee, he would not get more than 6-7% of the vote, and even that would come out of Doleís hide. If he gets more, it would be only to register a clear protest of the other two candidates. Lamm comes out of the Herbert Hoover wing of the Democratic Party, a fanatical budget-balancer whose candidacy would be aimed solely at making a statement of national sacrifice. The way the RP nominating process is headed at the moment, it is extremely unlikely that Lammís name would be at the top of the ticket, but that Ross Perot would be there, with Lamm perhaps as his running mate. Why? Perot knows he realistically cannot win in November, but it is not in his interest to have his party get less than 10% of the vote. At the top of the ticket, Perot would draw a respectable vote well above 10%, I think, and at least secure the Reform Partyís future into the year 2000. In a three-way match up with Clinton vs. Dole vs. Perot, in a worst-case scenario where Dole continues to do everything wrong, he might even come in third. Clintonís solid base in the black community and his wide lead among women would not be scratched -- unless Perot or Dole can persuade a Jack Kemp or a Colin Powell to join them on their tickets. It may seem an outrageous idea, but a Perot/Jesse Jackson ticket also would do a lot of damage -- perhaps even eclipsing Perotís 19% tally in 1992.
Iím throwing around these wild assertions not because I have any extraordinary confidence in them -- although they are the best I can do. It is because I want to demonstrate how pitifully weak are the opinions of the establishment media -- who insist on behaving as if the Reform Party does not exist. It is as if the political reporters can only juggle two balls at a time, so they pretend the third is not present. In his Monday column, Robert Novak wrote about my attempts to promote a draft-Kemp movement in the Reform Party. He made it clear that the Reform Party would love to have Kemp enter the process, but that Kemp has thus far spurned the overtures. He also made it clear that I have not given up on Kemp, in the same way I never gave up on the idea that there would be circumstances under which Kemp would bolt the establishment and endorse the candidacy of Steve Forbes. More importantly, Novak reported that ď[John] Sears, conceded even by critics to have one of the keenest minds in American politics, told me he believes Kemp could win. The basis for that remarkable conclusion is something nearly everybody agrees on: Clintonís double-digit lead over Dole is deceptive. Internals of polls show Americans are dissatisfied with both candidates and are looking for something else.Ē
Neither Sears, who was Reaganís campaign manager in 1976 and 1980, and Mark Nuttle, who was Pat Robertsonís campaign manager in 1988, believe that Dole canít win a three-way race if Perot or Lamm head the Reform ticket. They also surmise that many Republicans who would normally vote the top of the ticket and down the line would chill out and stay home, opening the possibility of broader Democratic victories. With Kemp at the top, the reverse would occur, with voters not only coming out to vote for the Reform Party candidate, but also casting their votes for GOP candidates who have won the endorsement of the Reform Party. The possibility then clearly exists of a Kemp presidency and a Republican Congress. It may seem that Perot and Kemp are at odds on what must be done, but that is only because Perot and Lamm want to use tactical nuclear weapons to blow up the logjam in Washington, while Kemp prefers strategically placed sticks of dynamite. Both are committed to the kind of fundamental reforms that neither major party candidate can endorse.
If this is going to happen, it has to be in the next three or four weeks. It only can happen if conventional wisdom focuses on the analysis presented here and realizes that unless it does happen, Dole will be dead-on-arrival at the San Diego convention. His only salvation could be a Dole/Kemp ticket that is driven by Kempís agenda, brought about by these pressures. Doleís errors multiply, the latest being his rejection of the NAACP conventionís invitation to address it, probably on the advice of his political handlers that he might be booed. In New York yesterday, Colin Powell was distinctly chilly in his tepid announcement that he would vote for Dole but had no plans to campaign for him. Republican hopes that Clinton will fold under a Whitewater wave and Dole will win by default are steadily dissipating. In the June 29 National Journal, William Schneider makes the argument we have been advancing for months: ďWhen people vote for President, itís like hiring a plumber. The main thing they care about is can they get the job done? Donít voters care about honesty and character? Sure, just as they want to be sure that the plumberís not going to cheat them or rob them. Clinton passes that test. Right now, the character issue is a weakness for the President. But itís not a disqualification.Ē
What can happen in three or four weeks? For one thing, the conservative radio talk-show hosts could talk up a Third Choice, and how the only chance of replacing Clinton would be a Reform Party ticket involving Kemp. Perotís appearance tonight on the "Larry King Live" show will be critical. Kemp has seriously considered the idea, but Sears has made it clear that thereís really no way it makes any sense unless there is a genuine draft movement that becomes palpable. This is something only Perot himself could spark. He could do it by publicly making it clear tonight to the people eligible to vote in the nominating process that he would like them to entertain the idea of a Kemp or Powell or Bradley nomination -- as well as a Lamm or Perot ballot. He always can brush off their demurrals with the argument that the situation he presents is so unique that he believes they would reconsider under the right circumstances.
The very least we can say about this unique situation is that it presents more fluid possibilities than the political establishment seems capable of confronting. Iím advised by most that my conjectures seem ďquixotic,Ē but there are enough people who I respect who tell me they see the possibilities -- like John Sears and Mark Nuttle -- that I continue to pursue them. Any long shot must be taken if you believe, as do I, that neither Dole nor Clinton under the best of circumstances is capable of breaking out of the party institutions they serve in order to do the peopleís business. The gridlock is the result of the tax system and campaign finance, which perpetuate the status quo. Unless the gridlock is broken by an outside force, we almost certainly will stumble along into the next century. It is against this hard assumption that I can even imagine a quixotic scenario that brings Perot himself to the Oval Office, with a running mate and a Cabinet capable of doing the job.