The Old Man and the Polls
Jude Wanniski
Septembers 24, 1996


Bob Dole, 73 years old, with a bad right arm, should not have to carry around on his back a fellow half his age weighing almost 200 pounds. I've never met Tony Fabrizio, Dole's pollster, who is supposed to be one of the best in the business. Maybe he is, but I would not vote for him to be mayor of my home town. Yet here he is, running the Dole campaign, making sure the Bobster stays 15 points behind the competition. Mr. Fabrizio is paid fabulous sums to count noses across the country, roughly the same amount that Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg charged the President in 1993-94 to keep him at least 15 points down in his polls. After the 1994 elections, Mr. Clinton bounced back by ignoring Greenberg and hiring Dick Morris at $200/hour to simply wet his finger and put it in the wind. Greenberg's polls had found the people hungering for national health insurance, tax increases to balance the budget, and an armed invasion of Haiti. Dickie Morris told the President to follow the Republicans toward the right wing cliff, but to always stay one step behind. It worked. When Newt Gingrich took one step too many and went over the edge, the President stopped and waved goodbye.

It does not take a rocket scientist to see that with President Clinton still at the edge, it would be better to be at his left than at his right. Fabrizio, though, finds the American people are most eager to balance the budget, to build more prisons, to crack down on pot, and to dynamite the teacher's union. They are happy with the economy, hate the IRS, and don't like the President cutting the defense budget. They want to put more people in prison and make life hell for them. They are not interested in foreign policy, but are thrilled that President Clinton is dropping bombs somewhere in the vicinity of Saddam Hussein. Fabrizio reports that the voters are deeply worried about the nation's moral decline, and that Mr. Dole could close the gender gap by dropping bigger bombs closer to Saddam and by cracking down harder on kids who inhale. He finds there is absolutely no chance that people of color will vote Republican this year, which suggests that Jack Kemp really should stop wasting his time knocking on doors in the inner cities and go after those white guys in the suburbs who smoke Camels and carry tommy guns. Fabrizio finds the voters do not want Kemp to upstage Dole, so the campaign has Jack trolling for voters in Chattanooga and Knoxville (last week) and Cleveland and Grand Rapids (this week). He has been permitted to go on national television once so far, on "Larry King Live," last Friday.

Do I exaggerate? Not at all. Fabrizio is now thrilled that Mr. Clinton has taken one step from the edge of the cliff that claimed Gingrich by promising poor people he will fix the welfare bill when the Democrats are in control, and also bring Hillary back into a position of influence. Fabrizio is shoving his candidate into that little space between Mr. Clinton and the cliff. He wants Dole to warn the American people that if they vote for Mr. Clinton, they are likely to get someone kinder and gentler than Mr. Dole. Monday's Wall Street Journal reported that in their coming debates, Mr. Dole plans to tell the people that the President is a liberal. '"He is a liberal,' Mr. Dole said at the College of Lake County here. 'He won't talk about it in the debate. Well, I'll talk about it in the debate.'" The Fabrizio team has decided to drive up Clinton's negatives!!! Also, the team has determined that Ross Perot will steal Joe Camel votes away from Dole if he were allowed in the debates. It doesn't matter that Dole and Kemp wouldn't mind debating Ross. The Fabrizio team insists that by kicking Perot in the groin, Mssrs. Dole and Kemp will close the gender gap. When last heard from, Ross was planning to spend the balance of the campaign kicking Dole and Kemp in the groin. It is reported that Bill and Hillary have tears in their eyes from laughing so hard.

What should Mr. Dole do in the little time he has left? First, he should beg Mr. Fabrizio to stop taking polls. Then he should ask Don Rumsfeld, his campaign chairman, if it would be okay if he brought Sheila Burke back into the campaign. The Fabrizio team kicked Ms. Burke, the Bobster's longtime chief of staff, off the campaign, because it was found she had a soft spot in her heart for widows and orphans. Then, most importantly, Dole should have a seance with his mentor, the late Richard M. Nixon. It was Nixon who, before he died, reminded Mr. Dole that When running for President as a Republican: You run to the right in the primaries and run to the left in the general. The ghost of RMN might then say: The GOP is the Daddy Party, the party of the individual, the risk-taker, the family's provider and defender. You must appeal to those masculine impulses to win the party's nomination. To then win the presidency, you must attract those who would otherwise vote with the Mommy Party, the Democrats, who represent the community, security, the interests of women, children and all those who need taking care of. You must run to the left to win them over. If you do it quickly now, Bob, you will still find Bill Clinton close to that right-wing cliff himself. You can get on his left and still be close to the center!

When the President of the United States puts on a steel helmet and flak jacket and orders the bombing of a foreign country without checking with anyone except his toadies, he is well to the right of Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond. When he announces that the economy cannot grow faster than 2Vi%, the President is telling the entire base of the Democratic Party, colored black and brown, that this is as good as it gets. The President has moved so far right on fiscal policy that he now favors a reserve army of unemployed. Delighted that he is keeping wages from rising, the Fortune 500 have contributed megabucks to his favorite charity, the DNC. If there are any upward pressures on wages, Mr. Clinton assures us that Alan Greenspan, who represents the security of the bond market, will nip them in the bud. Hillary and Robert Reich promise that the unemployed will get free health care, college scholarships, and school uniforms. Treasury Secretary Bob Rubin, who has his $100 million under lock and key, favors giving a capital gains tax cut only to poor people who invest in homes worth no more than $500,000. If you are on the bottom of the economic pile and are as happy as Fabrizio says you are, stick with Clinton/Gore.

The most amazing thing about the Dole campaign is that underneath his dark visage, Bob Dole is the nicest, sweetest man in politics today. He wouldn't hurt a fly. He certainly would never drop bombs on anyone just to get a bump in the polls. He gets teary-eyed when friends pass away even when he isn't on camera. Jack Germond, a grizzled liberal political reporter, says if there were a secret ballot in the Senate between Clinton and Dole, Bob Dole would get all the Republicans and half the Democrats. Three years ago, Maggie Thatcher told friends that Dole was the most impressive political leader in the world today. He still might be. If he turned his campaign around and got elected, I have no doubt he would find diplomatic means to come to terms with the Cold War stragglers. President Dole really would keep an open door to those who represent the people on the bottom of the pile around the planet as he has been quietly doing all his years in Congress. He would have a Treasury Secretary who would spread the message of entrepreneurial capitalism around the world, starting with lessons at the IMF. He would be working with Jack Kemp to rewrite the tax code from scratch, and with Greenspan's help, he would fix our money and balance the budget via economic growth. If he ran for re-election in the year 2000, he would get half the black vote. He and Kemp would have a much better team than Clinton and Gore would assemble with Colin Powell and Bob Ellsworth and Don Rumsfeld and Sam Nunn and Ted Forstmann and Jeanne Kirkpatrick and Senator Bennett and Bill Bennett and Wayne Angell, and other of his friends who know the way the world works. It would be impossible for Dole and Kemp to come from so far behind if they really were dark and mean guys. But they are as good as the country can produce. They would never bomb anyone before breakfast, as Mr. Clinton has demonstrated he would do at the drop of a poll. Nor would they shut down the economy because too many people were employed. They really are much better than they are letting on.