Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.) was misquoted Monday in an article recounting an exchange between him and Sen. Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) at a debate in Atlanta Sunday. Kemp said, "I don't trust the Soviet Union. You do. You trust the Soviet Union more than you trust the United States and NATO." (Published 3/2/88)
ATLANTA, FEB. 28 -- With key primaries coming up Saturday in the textile state of South Carolina and three days later throughout the rest of the South, the Republican presidential candidates injected a new topic into their rivalry here today with a heated argument over trade policy.
In a nationally televised debate, Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) and former television evangelist Pat Robertson demanded tighter restrictions on foreign imports, while Vice President Bush and Rep. Jack Kemp (N.Y.) countered that protectionist legislation would lead to a trade war and new economic disruption.
"An Alabama watermelon would cost you $55 in Tokyo," said Dole, who has endorsed textile import limits now pending in the Senate. "Let's be sensible, let's be realistic. We're talking about American jobs."
Kemp, who struck the most combative tone throughout the Atlanta Journal-Constitution debate, responded to Dole, "You sound closer to Dick Gephardt than Dick Gephardt," referring to the Democratic presidential candidate who has championed restrictive trade legislation. Until now, trade had been a highly charged issue only in the Democratic campaign.
Robertson used the most belligerent language in threatening retaliation against unfair trading practices, even to the point of framing the issue in ideological terms, by insisting that imports from China and the Soviet Union are hurting American jobs.
"I'm for free trade, but if these people don't deal fairly with us, its high time we got tough with them," he said. "I don't want to preside over Uncle Sucker, I want to preside over Uncle Sam . . . . I don't see how we can lose jobs in America in order to improve the standard of living of people in communist China and communist Russia."
Bush, who is engaged in a hard-fought battle in South Carolina where the textile industry is seeking new congressional restrictions on imports, said the new measures were not needed. "I don't want us to go the protection route," he said, noting that the South Carolina textile industry is now operating at 94 percent of capacity and has added thousands of new jobs in recent years. "If we can enforce existing laws our people can compete with anybody."
The debate at the Georgia World Congress center here marked the last at which all the Republicans confront each other before March 8, "Super Tuesday," when 17 states hold GOP primaries or caucuses. Many expected Dole, who is trailing Bush by wide margins in polls throughout the South, to come out swinging at him. Instead, Dole settled for glancing blows.
Dole opened the debate in a defensive mode, waving a computer printout of "hundreds" of votes he has cast over the past decade to cut taxes or to oppose tax increases -- a response to Bush and Kemp charges in New Hampshire that he would be inclined to raise taxes.
Later, Dole needled Bush for being the author of a report on counterterrorism that said U.S. policy is not to make concessions to terrorists at the same time that the administration was selling arms to Iran. Dole also described Bush's proposed four-year spending freeze as a "four-year cop-out."
But it was Kemp -- whose candidacy appears the weakest of the four -- who came on strongest. "Under Bob Dole and George Bush you're going to get the same thing -- they sound alike, they talk alike," Kemp said. "If they're nominated, I want you to know, the Reagan Revolution is over, gone, dead."
In an exchange featuring raised voices and finger-pointing, Kemp taunted Dole for having supported tax increases in 1982, 1983, 1985 and 1986. Dole fired back that Kemp had made a "great statement" but "Jack knows that's not accurate." As Kemp proceeded to list the tax votes once again, Dole shouted over him, "That was Ronald Reagan's tax bill. Why don't you support the president now and then? You don't support him on the INF Treaty."
Kemp interrupted, "You support the Soviet Union more than the United States and NATO," to loud applause.
Kemp also tangled with Bush on the issue of taxes and the budget, saying the 600-ship Navy, the Strategic Defense Initiative and the morale of the armed forces have all been "sacrificed on the altar of budgeting . . . mindless budgeting . . . . "
"We've lost a secretary of the Navy," Kemp said, noting the departure of Navy Secretary James H. Webb Jr. last week over new budget cuts.
"That's all right," Bush responded, "we've got another one."
Bush admonished Kemp over the deficit. "You don't think deficits are important," Bush said. "I think they are public enemy No. 1."
Bush's use of that figure of speech drew a protest from Dole, who has made the deficit the centerpiece of his campaign pitch for months. "George Bush is now making my speech," he said.
"I started off with a freeze, you said it was a terrible idea," Dole complained. "And a week later you said a four-year freeze."
Earlier, Bush had criticized Dole's version of a budget freeze, saying it would cut defense. Dole then hit Bush's plan, saying it would not make a "dent" in the deficit and would freeze in bad programs for four years.
On other issues, the Republicans had tough talk for the Panamanian strongman, Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega. Dole said he would issue an ultimatum giving him 30 days to flee Panama or face a trade embargo; Kemp said "if the Panamanians want to keep Noriega, the United States is going to keep the Panama Canal."
The Republicans refused to criticize Attorney General Edwin Meese III, who is facing several criminal investigations. Robertson seemed to blame the press for Meese's troubles. "I know it's very difficult when dealing with the press of America because they love to distort your words," he said.
And, in a discussion of current violence in Israel, Robertson asserted that "the truth is there is a great deal of harmony between Israel and the Palestinian people," despite the recent rioting and Israeli crackdown on demonstrations in the occupied territories.