The George Bush-Dan Rather brawl, which historians now refer to as "The Nine Minutes That Shook the World," has left many Republicans embittered. Strangely enough, none of them are Bush supporters. While outwardly outraged at Dan Rather for beating up on their candidate, the Bush people are privately rejoicing at their good fortune.
"Our boy is no longer a wimp," a Bush campaign chief told me. "He stared at the toughest anchorman in television and Rather blinked."
There seems to be no joy in the other Republican camps.
Managers of Dole, Kemp, Robertson, Haig and du Pont met in a Pizza Hut in Ames, Iowa, last week to discuss the ominous turn in the primary.
"The vice president was ambushed by CBS," the Haig man said. "This means only one thing. CBS must sandbag our candidates too. We can't let Bush walk away with the antimedia vote just because an anchorman verbally assaulted him on the evening news."
The Dole manager was even more bitter. "Rather owes it to us to make our guys look lousy. If he doesn't rough us up, Bush walks into the White House. When it comes to TV dumping on candidates, there is such a thing as equal time."
Al Haig's aide said, "The thing that gets me mad is not only did Bush go up in the polls because of CBS, but the money is pouring in. It's not George Bush money but anti-Rather money that is flooding his headquarters."
The du Pont man had a suggestion. "What if we go to CBS and apologize to Rather on behalf of the vice president? Won't that make him look like a wimp again?"
Pat Robertson's representative said, "I think we should pray the whole thing blows over. God tells me it's hopeless to believe Rather would get into a shouting match with all of us after he saw how much good it did George Bush."
"George never even answered Rather's question," Pierre du Pont's man said.
Kemp's lieutenant replied, "He didn't have to answer the question. All he had to do was sit there and object to Dan's asking it. It was a setup from start to finish and we're the losers."
Haig's man said, "Rather should never have let Bush go on his television show. After all, how does an anchorman defend himself against a vice president of the United States who stonewalls him right through the commercials?"
"Dan should have known what he was getting into when he tangled with a Yale man," the Kemp representative said.
"Will George do any future interviews with Rather?"
"I'm sure of it," the Dole manager said. "I heard Bush is so in love with CBS News that he has offered to fill in for Lesley Stahl when she goes on vacation."
The Haig man slammed his hand onto his pizza. "I say CBS owes us equal time. Dan Rather has to be as rude to us as he was to Bush or we sue."
The du Pont rep said, "Maybe in place of an interview Dan could moderate a debate and push our candidates when they don't answer his query."
The Kemp aide said, "We'll invoke the unfairness doctrine. Whenever Rather asks our candidates a tough question we'll act wounded."
Dole's aide said, "Senator Dole will go along with it just to bring some sanity to this race."
Kemp's man raised his hand, "We're all assuming that Rather will play along with us. Suppose CBS won't let him. How do we win the antimedia vote then?"
Dole's man declared, "We'll get Sam Donaldson to yell at us from a meatpacking plant in Pocatello, Idaho."