SAN DIEGO: John Sears, the best political chessplayer of modern times, came to this Republican convention city on Saturday at the request of Jack Kemp. He didn't know if the campaign was winnable, but he does now. The difference these few days have made is the result of the astonishing harmony between Bob Dole and Kemp. It flows from the fact that these two men have a genuine affection for each other that neither of them quite realized until they began to meet alone for the first time in their political careers. I've known Dole for 25 years and Kemp for 20, and have always known they dislike each other much less than people think. It has been their staffs who have fed the divisions, by taking literally wisecracks that they have made about each other in the heat of political battle. If anything, Dole has always been a little bit envious of Kemp's easy way with words and people as he led the sunny, optimistic side of the GOP. Years ago, I wrote that Dole was like a kid with his nose pressed against the window of a candy store, seeing Jack inside having all the fun. Now, that icy wall between them has melted. Dole is not only inside the candy store, but Kemp is on his team. Of all the GOP conventions I've been to, starting in 1968 in Miami, this is most like the 1980 convention in Detroit, when Ronald Reagan, the sunniest Republican of them all, overwhelmed the dark side of the Party. Bob Novak, who has attended every GOP convention since the 1940 event in Philadelphia that nominated Wendell Wilkie (when Novak was 9), says he has never before observed one like this, which began as a wake and ends with a honeymoon.
Democrats and partisan journalists attending this convention are furiously spouting all kinds of nonsense about how this is all imaginary, a fake harmony that will not last more than two weeks. They can't believe their eyes or ears, having already counted Mr. Clinton's re-election chickens. They now realize that if it is true, the Dole/Kemp ticket is in perfect balance, that the divided party has somehow been miraculously united, and that their ticket does not know how to defend against the ideas and appeal that Kemp has brought to Dole's. If you read the editorial page of The New York Times today, you will find the arguments building that Kemp has thrown in with the extremists in the GOP — that he has betrayed his following in the black and Hispanic communities by endorsing the Dole positions on immigration and affirmative action. The Times black columnist, Bob Herbert, a straw boss on the liberal plantation, earlier this week got the ball rolling by insisting that Kemp is a charlatan who seduces blacks into believing in him in order to win tax breaks for his rich friends. When Dole and Kemp address the nation tonight, we will get our first taste of a strategy aimed at winning not 11% of the black vote, which the Times can live with, but as much as half of it. Scott Reed, who was Kemp's chief of staff at HUD and is now Dole's campaign manager, is known to see eye-to-eye with Sears, who is Kemp's counselor, on the opportunities for reaching beyond the Reagan Democrats into the ghettos of New York and the barrios of California.
In 1988, I'd warned Jack against taking the HUD post in the Bush Cabinet, arguing that he would be co-opted, bottled up so he could not criticize any divergences from the Reagan Revolution. Of course, that is exactly what happened. The counter-revolution began under his nose, and it continued into the Clinton administration. I came to San Diego worrying about co-option again, but it is now plain that Dole is leading the second leg of the Reagan Revolution. In a private conversation I had with Dole in his office three years ago, I told him I did not think Jack would run for President in 1996, because his confidence had been shattered in his 1988 defeat. My exact words, I think, were that "All Jack needs is a season or two as back-up quarterback and he would be fine. Remember, he was a football hero, used to the adulation of crowds. His defeat in '88 was like losing the Superbowl by 100-to-nothing. You have no problem because you were a war hero, used to real bullets, without the adulation of crowds." In an almost mystical kind of way, it occurred to me earlier this week that the two men were made for each other. Of all the men in national politics today, Dole has the weakest right arm, shattered in war. Kemp, who could throw a football 100 yards and never has lost at arm wrestling, has the strongest right arm. Like two pieces of a puzzle that look so different, they have a congruence when fitted together. Soon after Labor Day, but only then, will it be clear that they should be able to finish what Reagan began.