The Bradley-Gore Debates
Jude Wanniski
October 4, 1999


Memo To: Ed Rendell, Mayor of Philadelphia
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Bradley Will Win

First, Ed, congratulations on being named chairman of the Democratic National Committee. It is hard for me to believe my former political party would be so smart as to pick the best man for the job. There are times I have been sorely tempted to go back to the "party of the people," when my Republican pals of the last 25 years cause me heartburn, but the Democrats always wind up reminding me why I jumped ship. For all practical purposes, you have been at or near the top of my list of favorite Democrats -- along with Sen. Bob Torricelli and former Sen. Bill Bradley, both of my home state of New Jersey. This, because the three of you have had the courage to break with the Political Establishment from time to time. Your bravery in inviting Minister Louis Farrakhan to Philadelphia early last year to help avoid a racial collision in Philadelphia marked you as a leader. (I hope you don't find an excuse now to beat up on Farrakhan, if the issue comes up.)

Yes, because you are now DNC chairman, you formally have withdrawn your endorsement of Al Gore in order to be neutral. On your Crossfire appearance last week, you still evidenced exceptional enthusiasm for him, especially his vaunted debating skills. You indicated that he had won his 1992 debate with Dan Quayle, his 1995 debate with Ross Perot, and his 1996 debate with Jack Kemp. I'm afraid Gore is not all that good. For one thing, while Quayle clearly was bested in his 1988 debate with Lloyd Bentsen, who was on the ticket with Mike Dukakis, he trounced Gore in that 1992 debate, as you will find if you just check around with the pros in both parties. The difference, as Quayle will tell you, is that when he prepared for his debate with Bentsen, he allowed the campaign team to dictate his debating script. He was so stuffed with material he was supposed to get across that he lost all spontaneity. In the debate against Gore, he refused to be brainwashed, but made his own preparations, leaving Gore looking wooden and ineffective by comparison.

In the debate with Perot, Gore clearly won because there was only one topic -- free trade. Gore came loaded for bear and actually trumped Perot's best arguments against the North American Free Trade Agreement by citing the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930 as a major cause of the Great Depression. (It would have been even better if he had used my argument that Smoot-Hawley actually was the cause of the Wall Street Crash of 1929.) Perot, of course, is not a politician and probably had not engaged in a formal debate except for the three-way 1992 event with Bush and Clinton -- the one where Bush checked his watch as a symbol of his disinterest. Not to take away anything from Gore, he was effective in that set-piece.

Everyone remembers Gore's defeat of Jack Kemp when they squared off in 1996, but you really ought to get a tape of the debate and review it for yourself. I agree that Gore beat Jack, but the only reason he did was that Jack was in an untenable position from the very start. You really should read my book on the 1996 campaign, The Last Race of the 20th Century, in order to understand what really happened. (If you hope to be an effective DNC chairman, you certainly know you can't ever believe what you read in the newspapers.) Why untenable? Because the centerpiece of the Dole campaign -- a 15% tax cut -- had been sharply criticized by Kemp before Dole asked him to join the ticket. Gore had Jack's exact quotes in front of him, reading them out as he denounced the "risky scheme" the tax cut represented. Conventional wisdom is that the 15% tax cut came out of the supply-side camp, Ed, but in fact it was designed by George Bush's economists , Mike Boskin and John Taylor, and had been fought by the Kemp people -- me included. We knew it was deeply flawed. I even flew to the San Diego convention and begged the Dole team to drop the 15% plan -- warning them that the Clinton Treasury Department would discover the flaws. If you review the Gore/Kemp debate, you will find that is the only place where Kemp is crushed, because he cannot deny that he said what he said. Gore did not use the device once, but several times, each time pushing the dagger deeper.

What I'm saying, Ed, is that Al Gore will go into the debates with Bradley on the false assumption that he is a great debater, when he is actually only so-so. Bradley, on the other hand, will go into the debates being thought of as a basketball player. But remember he was a Rhodes Scholar. His debating skills were sharpened in his college years and on the Senate floor, just as Gore's were. The difference is that underneath their skins, Gore is a pessimist and Bradley is an optimist. These are the qualities that will surface in the debates, no matter how much Gore tries to overcome his fear of change. To Gore, any change in the status quo is a "risky scheme." I will bet you a dollar that when the dust settles, you will have to agree that Bradley did in fact dominate the debates.... and that he also will go on to be your party's standard bearer. Bradley of course would chew little George W. Bush to pieces and spit him out in a head-to-head debate. In a three-way debate, Bradley and Buchanan, who I assume will be the Reform Party nominee, will leave W in the dust.

Hope this helps.... and good luck in your new endeavor.