SUNDAY DEBATE: Dole campaign manager Scott Reed is promising a “surprise” on Sunday from his candidate in the first of two presidential debates. It would be a surprise if the campaign, which is still in the infantile grip of pollster Tony Fabrizio, finally did something intelligent. What do I recommend? Dole should first realize that there is nothing he can tell his audience of 80 million Americans about President Clinton that they already do not know. The people who vote for President on November 5 know more about the President than they know about their church pastor or home town mayor. He has been flayed open these last four years, and it is an insult to the intelligence of the American people for Dole to be spending their money on tv spots to tell them stuff they know and have long ago discounted. The Washington Post this morning has a story of 10 voters who plan to vote for Clinton, having voted for George Bush in 1992: “Dole’s Weakness Creates Clinton Republicans.” They each acknowledge to some degree they think the President is a scoundrel of one sort or another, but that it hasn’t gotten in the way of him doing his job. The plan to have Dole wag his finger and say “Clinton...liberal, liberal, liberal,” was at least as ridiculous as the 1988 idea of having Michael Dukakis put on an army helmet and drive a tank around in circles.
THE ONE ESSENTIAL: The Clinton strategy designed by Dick Morris was to have the voters so frightened by Newt Gingrich that they would re-elect President Bill to continue to protect them. Everything Dole’s advisors have had him do from the San Diego convention on -- since he picked Jack Kemp as his running mate -- have played into the Morris strategy. The Sunday audience wants most to know that President Dole appreciates the gross errors that Newt Gingrich made in pressing his Contract With America, and that he absolutely will keep Newt under heel in the 105th Congress. If he makes his case strongly enough, there is always a small chance they will give Dole the White House and withhold the House from the GOP, just to make sure. In order to win both White House and Congress, Dole has to give a clear picture of how he will proceed from day one -- putting the horse of economic growth ahead of the cart of downsizing government, instead of the reverse order that Gingrich employed. He has to convey that in a Dole/Kemp administration there will be no government shutdowns, no train wrecks, no threats to default on the national debt...and no bombing of foreign countries without serious consultation with Congress. A commitment to produce a brand new tax system by 1/1/2000 is the single most important policy pledge I would make. My guess is that Dole will do none of this, but continue to follow the game plan laid out for him by his pollster.
THE ECONOMY: The state of the national economy helps the President because a majority of the people are finally happy to see a small rise in real wages. The rising stock and bond markets are timed perfectly for the President going into the last month of the campaign. Even the little blip up in unemployment today, to 5.2% from 5.1%, with 40,000 payroll jobs declining, fed into the financial markets in a positive way; we see the first murmurings that maybe the next move by the Fed will be to lower fed funds. With gold still trending down and the Fed stingy in liquidity adds of late, that sentiment could continue to pick up as election day approaches, with the DJIA topping 6000 and NASDAQ catching up, too. How can Bob Dole possibly counter this good news? Instead of offering marginal change, he can only compete by offering revolutionary change. The country still knows there are serious fiscal problems confronting it, which can only be resolved by more rapid economic growth than the President thinks possible. Don’t expect this from Dole Sunday. That’s Kemp’s job in his debate next Wednesday with VP Albert Gore.