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Dole Needs Far More Than Whitewater to Win

CAMPAIGN ROADMAP. A continuing series of articles analyzing the '96 presidential strategies.

June 02, 1996|Robert G. Beckel | Robert G. Beckel, a political analyst, served as campaign manager for Walter F. Mondale in 1984

WASHINGTON — So the Republicans rejoice. After the year you folks have had, even wingers deserve a break. But when the inevitable hangover begins, let me be the first to ruin the party. For Bob Dole and the GOP, Whitewater ain't nearly enough.

When the fog clears and the giddiness runs its course, take a look around and see what baggage is left. You still have one of this century's least-inspiring candidates; you still have a Republican speaker of the House who's ridiculed and despised, and you still have a party so far to the right that it scares the hell out of the sensible middle. In other words, you've still got a boatload of big problems, my elephant friend, before you carry the celebration to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

If the aforementioned is not enough to step on your parade, how's this? No sitting president with an economy this good this late in the campaign year has ever been beaten. No president since the beginning of Mr. Gallup's polling has ever lost a lead this big, this late.

Your wish for a foreign-policy crisis at this stage, should it happen, will only help Bill Clinton--remember, in times of crisis, the public rallies to the commander-in-chief for a long time. Your dream choice of Colin L. Powell as a running mate is still a long shot and, even if it came to pass, is fraught with danger on the right and the left. Then there is Patrick J. Buchanan and the abortion issue, and Timothy J. McVeigh and the "freeman" of Montana to remind voters of the dangers of the right wing. Had enough? No such luck.

Old elephant man, you destroyed Michael S. Dukakis on values and character, but that civil fellow never put up a fight. Clinton's taken on the values/character dirt you (and he, for that matter) have thrown and still he stands. In fact, only this old boy from Hope could put you, elephant man, on the character defensive.

And then, of course, there are your field troops ready to do battle for Dole--those brave field generals like Pat Robertson and his Christian crusaders; the right-to-life (unless you are a doctor performing legal abortions) crowd, or how about Rush Limbaugh and the radical-right talk boys whose ratings plummet by the day as their conspiracies get weirder than a Martian landing. Yep, just the crowd to impress moderate, undecided voters.

And since you have been insufferable in your strutting after the Arkansas verdict last week, elephant man, let me remind you that the public overwhelmingly believes Clinton is for smaller government, welfare reform and a reasonable balanced budget. Before you weep for the theft of your cherished ideas, the public sees your form of smaller government as crippling, your form of welfare reform as mean-spirited and your balanced budget as an assault on the elderly and the environment.

Beyond the horse-race questions in these surveys, look deep and you will see the real reason for Clinton's success to date. The voters may be interested in a GOP Congress churning up these issues, but they like the safety net of a Democrat in the White House to be sure you wingers don't go off the edge.

Now, I am not so naive as to think the Whitewater verdicts are not a problem for Clinton, but I have observed this man long enough to know that, like Ronald Reagan, this president knows how to get away from problems quickly. The White House is already beginning this process. They have stepped up to the verdicts and acknowledged the problems, but, starting this week, you will hear nothing from them on the subject. They have the Israeli elections, a potential problem for Clinton only among the Council on Foreign Relations crowd, but one that only a president can deal with. My guess is an early meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu will quickly divert attention from a 25-year-old Arkansas land deal.

As for values, Clinton's call for a teenage curfew will be followed shortly with other value-laden proposals. The economic numbers will continue to come in and continue to be good. And you can count on the White House to sing their praises loudly to drown out the Whitewater blues. Gas prices, such a big deal two weeks ago, are on their way down, as Clinton will remind voters. If that's not enough, the Olympics are coming and, old elephant man, guess who will be center stage during the world's greatest television spectacle.

So enjoy the party while you can, but soon you will wake up and smell the coffee. Your fascination with Whitewater still far exceeds that of the voters and although Clinton has taken a hit in this round, compared with what happened to him in the '92 campaign, this ain't that big a deal. If you are hanging Dole's election prospects on Whitewater alone, you are dumber than a meeting of the House GOP leadership--and that is pretty dumb.*

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