Notes on Campaign '96 III
Jude Wanniski
October 1, 1996


DOLE CAMPAIGN: There remains a sense that the national electorate has not definitely made up its mind to re-elect Clinton, but that it needs a good excuse to vote for Dole, which has not yet been supplied. His only advantage over Clinton is the ability to maneuver on both foreign and domestic policy, as Clinton essentially has been locked into his stand pat re-election strategy. The top of the Dole campaign remains frozen itself, though, having drifted back into exactly the same strategy it had on the drawing board before Jack Kemp was brought aboard -- and it has again fallen behind by 15-20 points in the latest match-ups. There had been a flurry of activity last week, as the Dole high command considered new initiatives that Kemp has been pushing behind the scenes. There is, though, no mechanism capable of dealing with any change of plan that carries risk. The decision-making process appears to be even more rigidly committed to the idea of being more conservative than the President. The idea of having Dole wag his finger at Clinton and say “liberal, liberal, liberal,” was a weak and silly decision by the high command, but Dole is in the mode of dutifully following the directions of his master planners. In the September 30 issue of the New Yorker, Michael Kelly’s analysis could not be better: “The candidate who is up in the polls has no wish to mess with what’s working. The candidate who is down is paralyzed by the weight of his proved incompetence to guess what works, so he mostly sticks with what his planners doped out for him months ago as the master plan, while flitting, with fitful and halfhearted enthusiasm, from one transitory tactic to another.” Kelly notes that it is still not impossible “for the contest to reverse itself even at this penultimate stage,” but there is nothing in the works to make that happen.

MIDEAST CRISIS: President Clinton could be vulnerable because of his fundamental error in openly campaigning for the Labor Party and Shimon Peres in the Israel national elections. He thus has almost zero influence over the tiger being ridden by Likkud Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It was as brazen for Clinton to campaign for Peres as it was for him to bomb Iraq without consulting anyone, but the Dole foreign policy team is too blind to see that. Instead, it fumbles, led by old Cold War hawks who reflexively back the hardest line Israel wishes to take. Even if the White House talks break down in total failure and war erupts in the Middle East, there is no downside as long as Dole’s team of old Nixon hands continues to display such lack of imagination. Jeane Kirkpatrick actually criticizes Clinton for not having campaigned for Netanyahu instead of Peres. This would have been just as fundamental an error. Dole should be backing the idea of a temporary closing of the museum tunnel that Netanyahu opened in Jerusalem as an obvious provocation to the Palestinians, with the aim of forcing renegotiation of the Oslo Accords that Peres had signed. That is the only way it appears Dole could actually help Netanyahu face down his own right-wing government, as Tel Aviv could not afford to defy Washington if both major presidential candidates agreed on this symbolic gesture to restart the peace process. By taking the line of his hawkish advisors, Dole instead encourages the American people to think he is hoping the peace process will unravel and that Clinton will be blamed. The two most creative foreign policy advisors available to Dole, his best friend Robert Ellsworth and General Colin Powell, have not been consulted by the Dole camp. We are forced to the conclusion that Donald Rumsfeld, the old Nixon Cold Warrior who is at the top of the high command, is happy with the Mideast strategy.

FARRAKHAN: There was almost no media mention of the St. Louis black political convention hosted by the Rev. Louis Farrakhan this past weekend. One of the few notices we came across, in the Chicago Tribune, indicated he spoke for 2½ hours to an audience of 7,000, yet there was not a mention of either the Dole/Kemp pledge to aggressively campaign for black votes this year, for the first time by a Republican team since 1956, or of Kemp’s initiative with the Boston Globe in praising Farrakhan’s Million Man March speech of last October 19 for its self-help themes. In his speech, Farrakhan said he found both Dole and Clinton unacceptable, and that a third force was necessary, outlining plans for a black political party. The accounts indicated Farrakhan being much sharper in his remarks about President Clinton and the Democratic Party, though, suggesting African-Americans have been taken for granted by them and are trapped in the “Democratic liberal plantation,” as we heard it on a WCBS radio report. Either Farrakhan has decided to sit out the ‘96 campaign at the urgings of other black leaders who have closed ranks behind the Democrats in hoping to recapture Congress, or he is saving any direct involvement for the first anniversary of the MMM in New York City on October 19th, when he will get much more media attention than he did in St. Louis. Given the investment Kemp has made in the black vote this year, Farrakhan’s stance can only work against any further investment, as the Dole high command will argue against any additional expenditure of energy along that line of attack.

GINGRICH: The Evans&Novak newsletter today reports that if the election were held today, the Republicans would lose 14 house seats and hold a majority by 9. Now that the House Ethics Committee has formally decided on an inquiry to find if Speaker Newt lied to it on questions involving his tax-exempt foundation, there is hardly any further he can fall in public esteem. As the match-ups continue to show erosion in the House, while Senate Republicans seem safe in holding control, now by a 54-46 margin, according to E&N, there is more internal pressure on Gingrich to announce an intent not to seek re-election as Speaker in the 105th Congress. By internal, I mean in his own mind. Even his closest political friends would never think of asking Newt to do this for the good of the party, as they know it would be counterproductive. Gingrich has to know that by foreswearing the Speakership, he automatically increases prospects of victory not only for the House and Senate races, but for the Dole/Kemp ticket. If the national electorate wants to get rid of him as Speaker, as punishment for his trainwreck strategy last year, the only way to do it short of defeating him in his district, which seems safe, is to elect a Democratic House by a margin of one.

CLINTON: In an interview with James Fallows of the Atlantic Monthly, President Clinton in June responded to questions about the future of the U.S. and world economy, as he sees it, with an openly dark assessment of the possibilities. Fallows noted that unlike the prescriptions of Gingrich and Kemp, which are accompanied by positive assurances that they will fix things up, Clinton seemed “fatalistic” about the intractable problems ahead: “He talked in detailed and enthusiastic terms about steps he thought would help the country weather its upcoming economic transition -- brought about by the global economy, the rise of computers, the ever-growing gap between rewards for highly skilled and for unskilled workers.  But beneath his action plan seemed to be a fatalistic awareness that this transition would be wrenching, like the one a century ago that accompanied the rise of unions and mass production.” Fallows raises the Social Security problem and says Clinton artfully dodged it. He also suggests Clinton might be worried as much about the deficit as Herbert Hoover, to the detriment of the economy, but the President says keeping the deficit down will “do more good for working Americans than would government spending or even tax cuts, which could raise the deficit.” A most interesting interview, although Fallows identifies Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas as a supply-sider, which he ain’t. But then, few people who think they know a supply-sider when they see one actually do, including the President.