Who's Laughing At Quayle In 2000?
By David S. Broder
In most political quarters, the idea that Dan Quayle could be the Republican candidate for president in 2000 is likely to draw derisive laughter. But it is no joking matter to the young men and women in the second-floor offices of Quayle's political operation, Campaign America, who already are working to make that improbability happen.
Let me point out four facts that suggest they may not be crazy. As the likely Republican field now stands, Quayle will be the only contender who has held national office, the only one who has been through two national campaigns, the westernmost candidate and very possibly the youngest one.
Obviously, none of these attributes guarantees that he will be a serious contender. Current polls show him trailing both retired Gen. Colin L. Powell and Texas Gov. George W. Bush.
But they explain why Quayle and his team seem serenely indifferent to the view that he is a joke.
Take the four points in turn.
As the only Republican who has held national office, Quayle could benefit from what some have called "the royalist tendency" among GOP primary voters the belief that the nomination should go to the person whose turn it is. The former vice president hopes he has the status that Vice President Bush had in 1988 and that Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole enjoyed in 1996.
Jack Kemp, Dole's running mate, could challenge that claim but Quayle hopes to strengthen his credentials by being the busiest campaigner for other Republican candidates in the midterm election. He's already begun, by raising more than $1 million for the Republican candidate in this November's Virginia gubernatorial race and by stumping for the GOP challenger in a near-hopeless New Mexico special congressional election.
Unlike anyone else in the 2000 field, Quayle already has two national campaigns under his belt. The first, in 1988, was a disaster. He stumbled in his encounters with the media at the New Orleans convention and was shown up by then-Sen. Lloyd Bentsen of Texas in the vice presidential debate.
But he redeemed himself in 1992, even though the Bush-Quayle ticket lost. He more than held his own in the debate with then-Sen. Al Gore. Quayle is not reluctant to compare his own showing against Gore with that of Kemp in the 1996 vice presidential debate. "I don't think Jack realizes how much this last campaign hurt his standing with the party," Quayle told me.
Positioning himself as the western candidate for 2000 was part of Quayle's decision to move from Indianapolis to this Phoenix suburb at the end of last year. He had spent part of his boyhood here, but this was more than a nostalgia trip. Arizona has an important early primary (Indiana does not), but the real point was to be next door to California.
With Pete Wilson leaving the governorship next year (after an embarrassingly inept 1996 run for the presidential nomination), the state that gave the GOP Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan has no other favorite-son candidate for 2000. (Kemp grew up in California but now lives in the Washington suburbs.)
Quayle regularly attends small Republican gatherings in California, building a network of potential supporters and contributors. His Campaign America operation numbers not only veterans of his vice presidential staff, like John McConnell and Craig Whitney, but John Peschong, whose resume includes a stint as executive director of the California Republican Party.
Notwithstanding all that he brings from the past, Quayle may well be the youngest of the 2000 aspirants. He turned 50 earlier this year, 12 years younger than Kemp, 10 years youn\ger than Powell, and seven months younger than Gov. Bush, the potential rival he seems to fear most. He is ready to play generational politics against Gore or Rep. Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.), who came to Congress the same year he did, by espousing a change in Social Security that would let workers under 45 divert a portion of their payroll taxes into a private annuity that they could invest as they wish. (Steve Forbes, five months younger than Quayle, advocated a similar plan in 1996.)
None of this may matter a whit if Quayle cannot shed his reputation for being a lightweight. So he wants you to know that his main activity outside politics is teaching a course at Thunderbird, the American Graduate School of International Management. He recites the course reading list of serious books on global competitiveness and Washington politics and says that, while there is a long waiting list to enroll, he had two dropouts in his first month. "They thought it was going to be a snap course, just listening to war stories," Quayle said. "They quit because it was too tough."
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