In case you’ve forgotten what a disaster Dole/Kemp turned out to be 12 years ago or willfully blotted it from you memories, here’s a timely reminder with some themes that echo today. Via Time magazine, Oct. 21, 1996:
Remember how in sandlot baseball games sometimes nobody on your team could hit the ball, and you’d be behind by, say, 16 runs in the final inning? And yet, if you were the last kid to strike out, you were considered the one who lost the game? Well, that’s how Jack Kemp felt after last Wednesday night’s debate against Vice President Al Gore.
Never mind that the Dole-Kemp ticket trailed Clinton-Gore by 16 points in the polls. Never mind that Bob Dole had gained no ground against President Clinton in a televised debate only three nights earlier. Never mind all that, because many senior Republicans had already resigned themselves to Dole’s incoherent campaigning and likely defeat. But there was still a good chance Republicans could keep a hold on Congress and make a better run for the White House in 2000. And in both those struggles Republicans attached their hopes to Kemp, who seemed to be everything Dole was not: energetic and visionary, smiling and articulate, able to draw big crowds and connect with them.
And then, with 45 million people watching on TV, Kemp was judged to have badly lost his debate against Gore. That’s what three instant TV polls said. That’s what a panel of debate coaches said. And worst of all for Kemp, that’s what prominent Republicans said, on the airwaves and, more vehemently, in private. “A disaster,” thundered right-wing icon Rush Limbaugh. “We need new leaders!” Many of the callers to his syndicated radio show expressed amazement and anger that Kemp passed up debate moderator Jim Lehrer’s invitation to critique President Clinton’s ethics, even on such public matters as the collection of FBI background files by the Clinton White House or the President’s alleged dangling of pardons before his Whitewater associates.
Conservative columnist George Will declared Kemp to be “verging on incoherent.” Bill Bennett, a co-chairman of the Dole campaign, was worried that his close friend Kemp was “concerned too much about being ‘nice’ and not enough about winning.” Bill Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, complained that “if you came down from Mars and saw this debate, you might think that Al Gore was a moderate Republican…and Jack Kemp was the Democrat.” Even Dole, in an interview with ABC’s Ted Koppel, cracked that Kemp and Gore got along so famously that “it looked like a fraternity picnic there for a while.”
Tuck that one-liner away. May come in handy during the fall presidential debates.
The dysfunction that currently prevails inside the Dole campaign explains why, within hours of the debate, the finger pointing was well under way. Dole’s campaign manager, Scott Reed, who once served as a top Kemp aide, put out the word that he was so disappointed with Kemp’s lack of fight that he refused to speak with his former boss after the debate. He was particularly upset that Kemp failed to use several scripted zingers. For instance, at some point when Gore cited arcana from Kemp’s record, Kemp was supposed to ask, “Say, Al, did you get that out of my FBI file?”
For their part, top Kemp advisers insisted to TIME that neither Reed nor any other campaign official had asked Kemp to attack Clinton’s character. Dole himself had sent the signal that the tactic might backfire, they said. “Our surveys show,” Dole told ABC, “that a sure way to lose the women is to do the tough stuff.”
The problem is that Dole can’t seem to decide how to take Clinton on. “I hear a lot of contrary advice from men and women along the rope lines,” he conceded last week. One of those women, Carol Higgins of Palos Park, Illinois, pleaded with Dole: “When are you going to put the boxing gloves on” and give President Clinton “what he deserves?” Dole giggled as his fans clapped and whooped.
Past, meet future? Bob Dole rides again.
Oh, no. How dare we criticize Bob Dole!
Via commenter Crapweasel: “Rush is eating McCain alive for lying about the email Bob Dole sent him. He’s saying that Dole didn’t scold him and that he didn’t endorse McCain as the McCain camp is claiming. Rush said that it’s a shame how McCain lied and is trying to use Bob Dole against him.”
The McCain crowd is wielding the Absolute Moral Authority Card like a crowbar.