There are still two months before Election Day, more than enough time for the Dole/Kemp ticket to overtake the apparent long lead that President Clinton enjoys in the public opinion polls. The reason the GOP ticket seems stuck is that it has not yet pulled itself together behind the kind of campaign we can envision with Kemp on board. From what I see, the merging of the two teams is happening at a surprisingly brisk pace, which means that by the time we get to the homestretch several weeks from now, it will be in a position to win. It is not so simple as getting Bob Dole and Jack Kemp to embrace, which is what began the process. The blueprint constructed for Bob Dole prior to the GOP convention was drawn up under a set of assumptions that no longer apply. That plan would have had Dole and some compatible running mate attacking Clinton on weaknesses in his record and character, probing for chinks in his armor.
Dick Morris, the Clinton advisor who fashioned the President's armor and put him into this formidable lead, could do so because he thinks like a Republican. Think of General George Patton, who defeated General Erwin Rommel in North Africa, after having taken the trouble to read Rommel's book on strategy. Morris had constructed a defense against the Dole strategy that could not lose, because it was built around an attack on Newt Gingrich. The voters never would put Dole and Gingrich in a position to unravel the social safety net. Nobody realizes better than Morris that by adding Kemp to the ticket, his strategy became vulnerable, which is why he unsuccessfully pleaded for a tactical addition of a growth-oriented tax cut to Clinton's arsenal. It is not that the voters are being offered a "tax cut" by the GOP that could win for them. It is that the Dole/Kemp team is offering major change to produce rapid economic growth and Clinton/Gore are content to "run out the clock on the 20th century," to use Kemp's phrase. What is happening behind the scenes has been an integration of the two teams, which requires an abandonment of the old game plan and the fashioning of a new one.
In the WSJournal today we read that "Dole Moderates His Rhetoric on Tax Cut In Nod to Decreased Public Expectations." The inference is that he is backing away from his growth message. What really is happening is that he is downplaying the importance of the 15% tax cut, which represents small change, in favor of big change — a commitment to scrap the 7.5 million words in the 83-year-old tax system. He would present the country with a brand new tax system with which to greet the third millennium. Kemp is nudging the campaign in the direction of promising a brand new monetary system, to replace the current one, which is also 83 years old. (Both the income tax and the Federal Reserve grew out of the Populist movement of the 1890s, led by William Jennings Bryan.)
Kemp, on the campaign trail, has been demonstrating to the Dole people how much better the promise of fundamental change plays. He spends a sentence on the 15% tax cut, which gets ho-hum applause, and then launches into the discussion of total reform, which brings down the house. The plan doesn 't change. It is the shift in emphasis that makes it work. The Clinton campaign is challenging the 15% tax cut on the six-year projections, which make it sound as if Dole is proposing to loot the Treasury and balloon the deficit. Dole is now in the Kemp mode, pointing out that $550 billion in tax cuts spread over six years is a very small part of a $7 trillion economy. Kemp is already pointing out that the tax cuts won't be spread out over six years, because there would be a new system in place by January 1, 2000. Don Rumsfeld, now the campaign chairman, has been the perfect man to knit together the two teams — with the confidence and respect of both Dole and Kemp. His defense of the Dole plan on "Meet the Press" Sunday was superb. Every time Tim Russert threw a number at him, Rumsfeld threw back the name of a Nobel Prize winner.
Until the team can get its integrated message assembled and debugged, it makes little sense for either Dole or Kemp to be front and center on the talk shows. There is a story in today's Times about how the Dole campaign is controlling Kemp, to keep him from being controversial. This does not appear to be the case at all, which should be apparent when the campaign decides to begin doing the news shows. In my frequent telephone conversations with Kemp, he remains supremely satisfied with the flow the campaign is taking. John Sears, his senior political advisor, is also pleased with the way the chessboard is developing and that ample time remains to make it all work. The news today involved the resignation of two of the media gurus in the campaign, Don Sipple and Mike Murphy. They are really casualties of the shift in emphasis from the old assumptions on how the race should be conducted to the new tone. The first wave of paid media they developed after San Diego involved attack ads on the drug issue, supposedly a chink in Bill Clinton's armor. The last thing the electorate needs to know about Bob Dole is that he would be tough on marijuana. Tonight, a 5-minute spot developed by the ousted media team will be aired, at enormous cost, introducing voters to a kinder, gentler Dole. This is all a total waste of Dole's and the taxpayers' money.
The professionals who developed the "Better Man for a Better America" theme can't really be faulted. They did not have much more to work with, before Dole unified the party with the addition of Kemp. Now, though, there is no excuse for the campaign's pollsters to be telling the team that they are discovering the American people are worried about crime or worried about drugs — and that Dole should therefore pound on the table and threaten to throw us all behind bars. How discouraging it was to see Dole this week, thundering to an audience about making the fight against drugs his "Number One Priority!" If anything, Kemp should be talking about the economics of crime and drugs, and Dole should focus exclusively on the vision of an expanding economy. Pollsters are notoriously inept at tailoring the material they assemble to fit the candidate and the situation.
There is still only so much that can be done, given the deep impressions Dole has left on the electorate over his lengthy career in Congress. When he campaigns alone, without Kemp at his side, he seems hopelessly cranky and old. When they team up, Dole exudes so much energy that he seems to shed a decade. Even the match-up polls between the candidates narrow when they are together and diverge when they separate. The floundering of both Dole and Kemp over Clinton's fiasco in Iraq might not have happened if they were together on the campaign trail to compare notes. As it was, Dole wound up being pushed this way and that by his handlers, seeming both too tough and weakly indecisive. The President is getting good marks for his handling of Iraq, but there is going to be more to that story, for which the Dole campaign should be ready. Ross Perot is already on Clinton's tail, accusing him of dropping bombs to get a bump in the polls. He is not far from the truth.
Political reporters are telling us repeatedly that no incumbent President has had this big of a lead at this point in the campaign, and lost. But with Clinton promising to run out the clock on the 20th Century, he has practically invited Bob Dole to take that lead away from him, so he can go back to Little Rock for four years of golf, while he plans a second-term comeback for 2000.