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Dole Hurt by Loss of Nerve in GOP Congress

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

September 15, 1996|Mary Matalin | Mary Matalin, co-author of "All's Fair: Love, War and Running for President" (Random House/Simon & Schuster), is host of "The Mary Matalin Show" on CBS radio. She served as deputy campaign manager for George Bush in 1992

WASHINGTON — Campaigns are a race against the clock. Though the chattering classes focus on money in politics, the most important resource in campaigns is time. Dollars serve only to make up for the limited time candidates have to explain complicated policies, programs and philosophies to millions of busy voters.

So, with only 54 days left to reach voters, to communicate the complex economic centerpiece of his candidacy, GOP nominee Bob Dole had to squander his most precious commodity--time--on an unnecessary campaign event: a plea to his down-ticket candidates on Capitol Hill to keep the faith.

With so many voters skeptical of his pro-growth economic plan because of Democratic disinformation, Dole needs to spend every waking hour of the few remaining weeks until Election Day preaching to the heartland--not to faint-hearted congressional lawmakers.

Only one week after the official kickoff of the general election, panicky congressional Republicans are emphasizing publicly their ability to work with a president who has labeled them environmental-polluting, kid-starving, senior-citizen-killing, education-slashing, hate-mongering extremists. The vice president called their leader, House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), a two-headed monster. (Surprise! President Bill Clinton's high-toned, call for a campaign of ideas, not insults, was yet another lie.) Even more insulting, the president took credit in his convention diatribe for no fewer than 13 reforms accomplished by the 104th Congress--many pushed through by Dole before his departure.

The president this Congress is "co-operating with" twice vetoed their historic welfare-reform legislation, then vowed to undo what he finally did sign upon reelection. He vetoed much-needed tort reform as toady-in-chief for the trial lawyers. Conventioneers applauded Co-President Hillary Rodham Clinton as she took credit for Rep. Gerald B.H. Solomon's (R-N.Y.) prohibition of drive-thru deliveries; Rep. T. Cass Ballenger's (R-N.C.) family flex-time legislation, and convention keynoter Rep. Susan Molinari's (R-N.Y.) adoption tax credit.

Rather than pillory the hypocrisy of the Clintons' election-year plagiarism, the faint-hearted hailed their "record of cooperation."

Who's co-operating with whom? The president's co-opting of the reformist congressional agenda left his own feckless followers flummoxed in Chicago, muzzled yet promising under their breath a return to the status quo in a reconstituted 105th Congress.

What are the formerly fearless GOP crusaders afraid of? The polls, of course. Polls that are driven by one solid year of negative attack ads. The Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign have spent more than $50 million lying about the Republican reforms for which the president is now taking credit.

Since their convention, the Democratic campaign has aired 4,400 negative ads absurdly claiming Dole is "against children, against veterans." The AFL-CIO has spent an additional $35 million echoing the demagoguery--$500,000 for each of 75 targeted GOP districts. The pundits and press profess the power of polls, but if the polls were truly predictive, Govs. Pete Wilson of California, Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersay, John Engler of Michigan and George Pataki of New York would be private citizens today.

The Democrats' unrelenting demonization succeeded in driving the polls only because they enjoyed the luxury of campaigning uncontested as the Republicans battled through a contentious primary.

While Clinton offered no vision for a second term--other than a toll bridge to the future--the Republican Congress constructed and passed legislation reforming Congress, lobbying, health care and welfare. They presented the first balanced budget in a generation, the first real savings ($23 billion) in 26 years. Their nominee put forward a positive growth plan for the future--including real tax and spending cuts. Contrary to the tax-and-spend crowd whose policies have given America the slowest recovery in a century, the Dole tax cut constructed by Nobel laureates, costing a measly 6 cents on the dollar of people's money (it is not the government's money), will not blow a hole in the deficit. Data confirm when the plan is fully explained to the average citizen, it closes the gap between the candidates.

A Republican victory requires a two-step process. First is getting the truth out on both their nominee's plan for the future and their own stellar record of accomplishments. Second and more important, every campaigning conservative must exude confidence in their work and the courage of their convictions. By focusing on the ephemeral polls and Dole's overstated and unsubstantiated weaknesses, the nominee's running mates have telegraphed to America: "You're right to be skeptical. We don't believe in our candidate, either." What happened to the courage, conviction and backbone that propelled this Congress to achieve more in its first 100 days than Clinton has in three and a half years?

The first rule of politics is self-survival. But as the never wavering, always fearless Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) reminded his beleaguered brethren, "We either hang together or hang separately."

The Congress should be proud to hang together in support of their unprecedented reform record and with a nominee of unparalleled integrity, tenacity and wisdom. They must cease their Clinton-coddling, hand-wringing and poll-watching and instead campaign with a vengeance.

They should take heart from Dole's example of optimism and quit wasting his precious time on pep rallies.

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