SAN DIEGO — Some of the Dole people are not happy with me telling The New York Times that we might think of Bob Dole and Jack Kemp like the father and son team of Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker. They took it as a disparagement of their man, while I meant it as a compliment. Dole/Kemp is the only Republican combination that could win the White House in November while carrying the GOP back into control of the 105th Congress, which I began arguing March 15. The presidency requires a person who embodies roughly equal amcSunts of pessimism and optimism, who knows when to be cautious and when to take risks, who knows when to protect individual interests and when to protect the interests of the community. Sometimes this occurs in one person, as it did with Washington, Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan. In the current White House, the President is the risk-taker, Vice President Al Gore and Hillary Clinton are the cautious communitarians. Bob Dole, by himself, would make a poor President, which is why we observed him in steady decline up to the moment he announced Kemp as his balance, his new equilibrium. In his hometown of Russell, Kansas on Saturday, Dole suddenly seemed 20 years younger, clearly delighted with himself for having chosen Jack, like a little kid who has had his nose pressed against the window of the supply-side candy store all this time, and now is inside, with all he can eat. Instead of thinking of a balanced ticket, think of a mobile that hangs from a single string, two pieces far apart that are free to turn. Clip one off and the rest collapses, which was what was happening to Dole on his own.
Can this team win? Of course it can. The President himself is said to have been shocked by Dole's choice, that he expected Dole to pick Sen. Connie Mack of Florida, a lieutenant in Kemp's army. As William Safire of the NYTimes noted Sunday on "Meet the Press," the selection showed a strategic talent on Dole's part that we had not seen before. He caught the opposition exposed on its own left flank, stunning the President and his chief strategist, Dick Morris, with a great circling movement. The President this last year has been pushing the Gingrich/Dole GOP further and further right, to an extreme clearly out of line with the national consensus. When the President signed the welfare bill, he tested his left flank to the limits, with the party's black leaders furious, but with no place to go. On the eve of Kemp's selection, 90% of people identified as Democrats were saying they would vote for Clinton/Gore. In his column Monday, Safire incorrectly aligns Dole with the John Kennedy line, "We've got to get this country moving again," when the line Dole has now picked up from Kemp is the Reagan line of 1980: "We've got to get this country moving again, but we can't leave anyone behind." Bob Dole is already beginning to pick up the words and music, enjoying his newfound optimism instead of pondering certain defeat.
If Kemp is given free rein, he will savage Clinton's left flank. There is nothing Clinton had that was more secure than the black vote, which was his at 95%. If Kemp can persuade the Dole campaign to allocate serious resources to the minority community, the people who have been left behind, there is no reason the GOP could not peel away 30% or more of that vote, also winning back Reagan Democrats. There is no guarantee that Kemp will have this kind of freedom of maneuver, though. The tendency of Dole handlers is to worry that Jack will be undisciplined. They will want to protect Dole from Jack's exuberance. He will be permitted maximum freedom in selling the Dole tax plan, but it is still not clear why Dole chose a plan that Kemp had argued against. Will Kemp have sufficient access and capital with Dole to develop the plan in different directions, to put it more in line with the ideas he had developed with Steve Forbes? Will he be able to advance the twin proposals he made in his June 18 WSJournal op-ed — for executive orders that would index capital gains and stabilize the gold price? None of this is yet clear. Kemp has John Sears in San Diego to represent him in negotiations with the Dole people, to try to gain as much freedom of movement and resources as he can. These are the sober considerations that will test the resourcefulness of the ticket when the euphoria of the convention gives way to the hard grind of political combat. If Dole and Kemp can find a way to stay in tune as they have thusfar — a touch-and-go father and son enterprise — they can pull it off.
[Jude is in San Diego for the GOP Convention and will be reporting from the scene through Thursday.]