Johns Hopkins Gazette: April 1, 1996

Campaign '96

     Bob Dole is a cautious man. While it seemed a bold gesture
to claim the Republican nomination even before the polls closed
in California on Tuesday, March 26, Dole could have confidently
claimed victory at least one week earlier, when his delegate
count put him over the top of the 996 needed for the nomination.
But he waited. Political scientist Benjamin Ginsberg, director of
the Washington Center for the Study of American Government, says
this characteristic may haunt Dole and the Republicans throughout
the long general election campaign ahead. He spoke with editor
Steve Libowitz about his thoughts on this and other aspects of
the Dole/Clinton presidential race.

Gazette:  The Republican primary season ended with lightning
speed. And essentially there was no Democratic primary season.
What does this portend for Bob Dole and President Clinton as well
as the electorate?

Ginsberg: What seems strange is that Clinton was widely regarded
as a weak candidate, certainly among congressional Democrats--
some of whom saw him as abdicating leadership over the past two
years. And while there were rumblings about someone trying to
mount a challenge in the primaries, it just never came about.
     But there are some rumblings. Ralph Nader is talking about
running as an independent, which would be completely ill-advised.
And there is no other faction organized from within. Look, the
old Southern Democrats are gone--they're either Republicans or
deceased. Organized labor has been badly weakened by the
restructuring of the economy during the past 20 years. Basically
the challenge has to come from the left.

Gazette:  What snapped on the Republican side that kicked Dole's
candidacy into overdrive for an earlier-than-usual capture of the

Ginsberg: Well, keep in mind that Dole didn't really do any
better or worse at the end than he did at the beginning, it's
just that [Steve] Forbes and [Lamar] Alexander and the others got
out. So Dole, campaigning in the same lackluster way with the
same lack of themes and the same lack of delivery started to get
70 percent rather than 30 percent of the primary votes. So his
rise was basically a matter of everyone else crashing and

Gazette:  What does it mean for the person in the street that the
nominations are locked up this early in an election year?

Ginsberg: Well, we now have a very complex situation where the
two presidential candidates are the president and the Senate
majority leader. Obviously Clinton and Dole are going to be more
focused on the coming election than they are on the bills before
them. And they're going to have some very hard choices before
them because, in a way, each wants to present the other as an
obstructionist who couldn't get anything done. And each will want
to present himself as the man who was able to bring about
important legislative breakthroughs. So this is a recipe for

Gazette:  But the light on the Senate floor surely will show off
Dole better than the glare of TV cameras and flashbulbs of the
campaign trail.

Ginsberg: Well, what we will see with him back in the
legsislative mode is a playing out of the blame game. I predict
that we're going to see legislative stalemate because neither
side will feel it can afford to allow a victory to the other
side--as was the case with the budget crisis, which, by the way,
we're still in, but it's been decided it's just no longer a

Gazette:  How will this play out with the voters?

Ginsberg: There will be dissatisfaction with both, but as you
notice with the budget crisis, at the end of the day the voters--
by way of polls--decided it was the fault of congressional
Republicans. And seeing that, the Republicans backed off. Here, I
think at the end of the day voters are going to say, 'Oh you damn
politicians, none of you are any good,' but they will make some
judgments about who is worse. And chances are, in this struggle
the victory will go to Clinton because the national media tend to
be more sympathetic to Democrats than to Republicans, and the
likely stalemate in Washington is going to be seen as a result of

Gazette:  And Clinton can always rise above the fray by doing
presidential types of things.

Ginsberg: That's absolutely right. Clinton is not only the
legislative leader, he's also king. And if his legislatve
strategy fails, he can do kingly things, like greet foreign
dignitaries, bless the troops in Bosnia, award medals--all these
kinds of things we Americans love our king to do. Whereas Dole is
only the legislative leader, and he has no other duties. So this
will be a tough game for the Republicans. 

Gazette:  How do you think the media will report on all this

Ginsberg: They will play an important part in this blame game.
They'll be asking and assessing whose fault it is that nothing
much is going to happen legislatively. And they'll paint it as a
contest between the intransigent congressional Republicans who
refuse to compromise and the presidential veto. Keep in mind that
the media spin is that something is supposed to happen. They
equate bills passed with progress. So in this struggle, Clinton
has more cards to play than Dole.

Gazette:  So how do you see Dole playing his limited cards?

Ginsberg: Dole is going to be too cautious. My prediction is that
Dole will err on the side of caution when in order to win the
game he'll have to be bold. If this process leads to a
legislative stalemate, the media is going to blame the
Republicans. What Dole needs to do is associate himself with a
bold set of programs. And--this may seem cynical--it doesn't
matter what they are. I mean, there are so many programs out
there that don't amount to anything anyway. But politically, he
needs to associate himself with a bold and interesting set of
programs, and he needs to endeavor to push them through and let
Clinton block them. Put Clinton on the defensive. Give the media
a chance to paint Clinton as the obstructionist. This will catch
the media by surprise. Bold and interesting initiatives from Bob
Dole. And here the media thought they knew all his moves. 

Gazette:  But he won't do that will he?

Ginsberg: No, he won't do that.  He'll err on the side of caution
and lose this part of the game. This won't be the only factor,
but it will be an important one.   

Gazette:  What are some of the other components of this game?

Ginsberg: The vice presidential choice is very important. You
know by now I am a Colin Powell booster, and I think putting him
on the ticket is a winning strategy, if Powell can be persuaded
to do it. 

Gazette:  Are people still trying to persuade him?

Ginsberg: Right now, he is being brought under a lot of pressure.
In the national media in recent weeks there have been Op Eds by
prominent African Americans, talking about what a historic
opportunity this is. You have people saying that for the first
time in history, an African American will be in line to be
president of the United States. How can he turn this down, it's
his duty. You have Republicans saying, "With you on the ticket,
we can win. It's your duty." Others are saying, "We need you as a
leader. It's your duty." That's an awful lot of duties being
waved around the general, and it's my view that generals answer
the call of duty. That's what generals do. 

Gazette:  And you think he'll cave in to the pressure?

Ginsberg: I don't think it's by any means a certainty. But I do
think that would be a great choice. Now Buchanan and his friends
will threaten to bolt the ticket if that happens, but if I'm Bob
Dole, I'd say, "Good bye, we don't want you."

Gazette:  Beyond perceptions and the vice presidential choice,
will any issue play a significant role in getting either Clinton
or Dole elected president in '96?

Ginsberg: I don't think so. Perhaps the budget. We don't have a
1997 budget. We don't have a 1996 budget. But that may not
matter, just as the deficit is yesterday's news. But at least for
the next few months a budgetary deadlock will be played out in
the media to the detriment of the Republicans. Another set of
issues will be health care, mostly because of the debate on
health insurance and the proposal to make insurance portable.

Gazette:  In the wake of the recent General Motors strike over
outsourcing, might the buzz of '96 be jobs?

Ginsberg: Buchanan put this set of issues on the table this year-
-the loss of blue collar jobs, international competition. [Ross]
Perot did this somewhat with his attacks on NAFTA. But both
parties are leary of the issue. Bill Clinton talks about
corporate citizenship, but that's free. You can urge corporations
to be better citizens. But it is possible that the Democrats will
introduce legislation to put some restrictions on corporations to
outsource, to pick up and move whenever they feel like it.

Gazette:  Are either Republicans or Democrats better situated to
embrace this issue?

Ginsberg: Right now it's a more divisive issue within the
Republican Party, so Democrats have reason to introduce it.
Richard Gephardt has talked about this issue for years as a
political strategy, and the labor unions would love to see it.
But the issue didn't really catch fire among voters when Buchanan
raised it.

Gazette:  So as you have said before, the election will be a
personality contest.

Ginsberg: I think so. Clinton feels he can win that race. The
Republicans think if they can put together the right ticket, they
can win it.

Gazette:  Will Ross Perot be a factor?

Ginsberg: I think his day has passed. I don't see him as a
significant factor.

Gazette:  The media seems excited about the possibility. 

Ginsberg: That's in part because there's nothing else to talk
about. And Perot is a single issue candidate--the deficit. And
that issue has gotten tired. He could pick up some aspects of the
Buchanan agenda.

Gazette:  Wouldn't the inside-the-beltway gridlock help a Perot

Ginsberg: Yes, I guess it could to an extent. But remember for
Perot to come into the race, he's got to be prepared to come up
with a lot of money. Last time, he found a way to not really
spend his own money. In the course of running a self-financed
campaign, he managed to do it with other people's money. I don't
think he has the same base of support this time, and he'd have to
reach into his own pocket. And he's a skinflint. A tightwad.

Gazette:  Could he get even 10 percent of the vote in November?

Ginsberg: I don't think so. I think he's through. Besides, other
than the money, he was a media creation. The media found him
interesting, an amusement. But they don't find him as interesting

Gazette:  Who will suffer if Perot steps in?

Ginsberg: If he runs he hurts Dole somewhat. Now I know there are
studies out there that show he got his votes pretty evenly from
Democrats and Republicans, but I'm not sure anyone believes them.
I think it's generally believed that most of his votes would have
gone to Bush if he were not in the race. But I just don't think
he's going to be a factor this time. 

Gazette:  Barring a Perot or Nader candidacy, we're looking
forward to eight months of political dancing, legislative
gridlock, media inattention. Will anyone show up at the polls in

Ginsberg: I think if Dole can lure Powell onto the ticket, that
will translate into a very interesting campaign. That would be
something very historic. That would rightly draw the attention of
all the media away from Buchanan and Perot and gridlock, which
they're already bored with. Powell on the ticket would change the
entire tenor of the race.

Gazette:  As we're talking I've called up Dole's homepage on the
Internet, , and when I click on "Why Bob
Dole Should Be President," I receive an error box, which reads
"this document contains no data." Does that strike you as funny?

Ginsberg: Very. Bob Dole's great weakness is that he has not
answered the Ted Kennedy question: Why do you want to be
president? And I don't know that he can. I still think it is
astonishing that someone who has spent their entire life in
public service shouldn't have at least bought some issues off the
shelf. You don't have to really believe in them. That's what
consultants are for. Issues are available retail, wholesale,
through mail order catalogs. 

Gazette:  Perhaps he'll be able to come up with something in the
long months ahead.

Ginsberg: Maybe he'll have time to go issue shopping. We'll talk
again in a few weeks to see if he's had any luck.

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