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Giving Dole his due

National | Bob Dole has no one but himself to blame for his woes

Issue: "Arkansas' Mister Clean," July 6, 1996

A few weeks ago, Bob Dole met with Family Research Council president Gary Bauer and prayed. With a convention blow-out over abortion a distinct possibility, they had a lot to pray about. Mr. Dole went on to engineer a historic agreement between pro-life and pro-choice camps-a statement of tolerance asserting that there was disagreement among Republicans over a variety of issues including abortion would be inserted into the preamble of the party platform. It seemed like a miracle, but then, for some reason, Mr. Dole changed his mind.

Fresh from a weekend meeting with Colin Powell, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee decided the statement of tolerance should be attached to the abortion plank instead of the preamble. What had happened? Had pro-lifers been duped by Dole? Or had Gary Bauer's prayer-partner become the political heir-apparent to Flip Wilson?

Maybe the Devil made him do it, maybe not, but one thing was certain-Mr. Dole did it with gusto. On June 11th, after shattering the agreement, Mr. Dole went ballistic. In an interview with ABC's Kansas City affiliate, he attacked Mr. Bauer ("I don't know where Gary Bauer's been all his life...."), attacked the Christian Right ("I don't know where these people come from...."), declared there wasn't any difference between inserting the tolerance statement in the plank as opposed to the preamble ("What's the difference if it's in the preamble or the platform?"), and then came right back around and declared that there was in fact a big difference between the preamble and the platform after all ("If you put it in the preamble, you're saying: 'Well, taxes, trade, and all these things are in the same category as this moral issue'"). That tirade earned Mr. Dole prime real estate on page one of The New York Times, with Gary Bauer going along for the ride. "It's ironic," Mr. Bauer says. "A few insiders have been saying this was a concession to Powell. But I doubt it. It's probably just Dole being Dole." The idea that Dole and some political guru-of-the-month devised a scheme to entice Mr. Powell to become Mr. Dole's running mate is a genuine Washington lallapalooza, the kind of story politicos and paranoids foam at the mouth about. But it's too bizarre for many people to believe it's part of a strategy. As a senior Dole campaign advisor put it: "No, this was not strategy. It was a big, big mistake." Mr. Bauer agrees. Immediately after Mr. Dole blasted Mr. Bauer, the FRC chief received a call from campaign director Scott Reed: "He was shocked. 'Gary, I can't believe it. I don't know why he [Dole] said it.'" When asked about the possibility of a ruse, Mr. Bauer chuckles. "I doubt it. The Washington Post said I've become Bob Dole's Sister Souljah, but I don't think that reflects very well on me or Bob Dole."

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The Post's reference was to a 1992 incident in which then-candidate Bill Clinton, in the presence of black activist Jesse Jackson, denounced rap singer Sister Souljah; Washington journalists regarded it as a symbolic act designed to make Mr. Clinton appear more centrist and not captive to the Democratic Party's counterculture base. The Christian Coalition's Ralph Reed thinks the Souljah comparison amounts to wishful thinking. "Clinton's people prepared the press and he hit an easy target. Sister Souljah didn't lead an organized political constituency. This is totally different."

Perhaps, but there are those who believe Dole has something in common with Hillary Clinton-he hears voices. On CNN's Capital Gang, Robert Novak suggested the entire debacle could be traced to Mr. Dole's tendency to accept tales from the crypt: "The problem is, Bob Dole is taking advice from the grave. He couldn't say no to Nixon when he was alive, and he can't say no to him while he's dead." Whether Mr. Dole was channeling Richard Nixon, wooing Mr. Powell, desperately seeking his Sister Souljah, or just being Bob Dole, the result is the same: bad times ahead for Mr. Dole and the Republican party. And according to Gary Bauer, Ralph Reed suffers from the mistake, too. "Ralph went out on a limb to get Dole the grassroots religious right and now Dole's slapped him in the face."

Mr. Reed doesn't see it that way. "Neither I nor the Christian Coalition ever endorsed Bob Dole. I do think Senator Dole is committed to keeping the Republican Party unambiguously pro-life and that is something we agree on. But if he continues to insist on inserting the tolerance statement in the abortion plank, there will be strong opposition." Unless Mr. Dole performs another miracle, come November he may be saying the Devil made him lose it.

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