Cover Story

Round 2

It's Dan Quayle vs. the liberals, the comics, and the polls. America's favorite political punching bag is back for more. But after seven years of obscurity, is it time to take him seriously?

Issue: "Quayle's presidential bid," June 19, 1999

in Cedar Rapids, Iowa - Laurel, an emergency room X-ray technician, asks a reporter what he's doing in Iowa. The answer: covering the Quayle campaign. She seems a bit confused. Quayle? "He's campaigning up in Cedar Rapids," the reporter explains helpfully. Still that look of confusion. A long pause. Finally she makes her question more explicit: "And Quayle is ... ?" "Uh, he's running for president. He was vice president seven years ago." The technician shrugs and shakes her head. "I don't watch that much TV," she confesses. While the X-ray machine clicks and whirs, she leaves the room and chats with some friends in the hall. Gales of laughter ensue. When she returns, the look of confusion is gone. "Oh!" she exclaims. "The guy who couldn't spell potato ..." Welcome to Dan Quayle's nightmare. As he sweats through a campaign trip to Iowa-site of the earliest caucuses for the presidential nomination in 2000-the former vice president is asking voters to both remember and forget. Remember his name. Remember his conservative credentials. Remember his loyal service in the No. 2 spot. And forget the whole potato thing. At a 7:30 breakfast for about two dozen supporters in Cedar Rapids, Mr. Quayle seems oddly energized by the daunting task that faces him. At last, his public life is no longer about attending funerals for obscure heads of state or defending policies that others dreamed up. "When I get up in the morning, I don't have to worry about, 'Oh gosh, what am I going to do to advance the president's interests today?' It's about my agenda. It's about my issues," he tells the crowd. After a six-day, four-state campaign swing, he's clearly worn down. But as he gets into his speech, talking about issues like school choice and the war in Kosovo, the bags under his eyes become less noticeable than the fire in them. He thanks the "small group of true believers" who've turned out on this already hot morning. He praises them for believing in "families, neighborhood, God, and country"-the very things he says his campaign is all about. He pledges to reclaim the White House from those who have "trashed" it. He says he wants more than anything else to return morality and decency to Washington, because "a president without moral authority won't get much done." Mr. Quayle's stump speech is impassioned, but hardly unique. In the national soul-searching kicked off by the Columbine tragedy, candidates from Gary Bauer to Al Gore are talking up "values" and "morals" every chance they get. But it wasn't always so. During the 1992 campaign, Mr. Quayle's attack on out-of-wedlock births-as glamorized in the popular sitcom Murphy Brown-sparked a firestorm of controversy. And not all of the criticism came from liberals. "He certainly took a lot of heat," says Bill Kristol, Mr. Quayle's former chief of staff who now edits The Weekly Standard. "The Bush White House didn't like the idea of picking a fight with Hollywood. But he stuck to his guns. He was really on the offensive for family values and morality. He was courageous, and I think he deserves credit for that." Mr. Quayle certainly wouldn't mind some credit. "We clearly made a difference in the values debate," he says, relaxing for a moment in the hotel suite that will serve as his home for about 16 hours. "There was a lot of ridicule, a lot of criticism. Some of the campaign people around George Bush said it was a big mistake, and they tried to run away from it. But the mistake was those people who ran around wringing their hands, gnashing their teeth. They didn't know what was going on. Seven years later we've got Bill Clinton taking on Hollywood. Tell me we haven't made progress." The former vice president can probably be excused for indulging in a few I-told-you so's. For four long years he provided more punch lines to late-night comedians than perhaps any other politician in history. He was portrayed as a bumbler, a lightweight, a dolt. Every slip of the tongue was mocked by Democrats and replayed endlessly on television. To make matters worse, he suffered all those indignities while representing an administration with which he sometimes disagreed. He opposed both the Bush tax increase of 1990 and the sweeping Civil Rights Act of 1991, and he voiced his displeasure with the nomination of David Souter to the Supreme Court. But his dissent was heard only behind the scenes. In public he was ever the loyal lieutenant. "I'm proud of my loyalty," he says in retrospect. "Of course the president and I disagreed privately, but I didn't go out and hold a press conference to talk about it. I don't think that's the role of the vice president. I'm sure that some will try to attack me on that, but it was the right thing to do." After four years as a combination lightning rod and punching bag for the Bush administration, Dan Quayle might have assumed he'd earned a ringing endorsement from his old boss. But the former president has his own dog in this fight: his son George W., governor of Texas. The still-unofficial Bush candidacy has overshadowed the entire Republican field, but it's especially tricky for Mr. Quayle. With the help of his father's Rolodex, the Texas governor has raised record amounts of cash-much of it from precisely the same donors that Mr. Quayle had hoped to tap. Indeed, Mr. Quayle's top two fundraisers resigned just three days before his trip to Iowa, reportedly as part of a shake-up necessitated by the campaign's cash squeeze. But there may be a silver lining for Mr. Quayle in all of this: The Bush candidacy allows him-forces him-to run as an outsider. By virtue of his last name, Gov. Bush will have to defend an administration that many conservatives thought was a dismal failure. That frees Mr. Quayle to voice his criticisms without seeming to be an ingrate. Only with George W. Bush in the race could a former vice president position himself as a political outsider and anti-Establishment candidate. It's a role he clearly relishes. Under a canopy of white Christmas lights and a mirrored disco ball, he tells a lunchtime group at Elks Lodge 251 that Establishment candidates lose elections for the Republican Party. "Ronald Reagan ran as a conservative, and he won. George Bush ran in 1988 as a conservative, and he won. Then he turned around and ran an Establishment campaign in 1992, and he lost. Bob Dole ran an Establishment campaign in 1996, and he lost. "I'm tired of losing," Mr. Quayle continues. "It's time for the Republican Party to return to the conservative principles that win elections for us." Everywhere he goes, he tells audiences that he represents conservative principles while George W. Bush represents a sort of mushy, poll-driven centrism. At a mid-morning press conference, he's asked how Gov. Bush's position on ethanol production will play in Iowa. "I don't know his position, do you?" he shoots back. "I suppose he'll take a poll and decide what his position is." On a more serious note, Mr. Quayle told WORLD, "I just don't know where he stands on the issues. Will he support my bold, 30 percent across-the-board tax cut? Will he be an ardent supporter of choice in education? They haven't done much in Texas on that. I don't know where he comes down on Kosovo. I don't know where he stands on those issues, and I'm not sure he does yet." Mr. Quayle does know where his opponent stands in the polls, and he professes to be unconcerned. The first "poll" that really matters, he insists, is the Iowa caucus on Feb. 7. "We'll know then who the frontrunner is. And a month later we'll know who the nominee is." In Mr. Quayle's playbook, the election will come down to a conservative candidate (himself) and an Establishment candidate (Mr. Bush). His staff insists the race is already shaping up that way, with Mr. Quayle moving into a tie for second place with Elizabeth Dole. Actually, the Newsweek poll that they refer to has Mrs. Dole at 17 percent and Mr. Quayle at 9 percent. But given the fine print (a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent), the two candidates could, conceivably, be tied at 13 percent apiece. For a campaign in search of momentum, that amounts to a second-place finish: "Very, very big news," in the words of one staffer. Of course, not everyone is willing to concede to Mr. Quayle the mantle of Ronald Reagan. The GOP field is crowded with candidates eager to position themselves as the "conservative alternative." Alan Keyes, for instance, questions Mr. Quayle's pro-life fervor while Gary Bauer wonders about the kind of judicial appointments he'll make. And even in the minds of many rank-and-file Republicans, the former vice president's image can be a bit fuzzy. Is he a Bushie or a Reaganite? An angry outsider or the consummate insider? "He's always been at once a conservative Republican and a mainstream Republican," concedes his friend Bill Kristol. "That may be the best of all possible worlds, [but] in this election, he runs the risk of getting pinched between Bush and Dole in the center and Bauer and Buchanan on the right." The campaign's quest for conservative bragging rights was set back recently when Art Klemm, a member of Mr. Quayle's steering committee in New Hampshire, voted in the state senate to allow partial-birth abortions. When Mr. Quayle failed to ask Sen. Klemm to step down from the steering committee, his own state press secretary resigned in protest. "You don't run a campaign like that," Mr. Quayle replies to critics who insist that he ought to remove Mr. Klemm. "I don't endorse him; he endorses me. It would be different if it were the other way around. If I start to get into that, I'll spend all my time checking on what people think about various things. It's a losing, losing battle. Clearly I was very surprised by the vote. I'm vehemently opposed to partial-birth abortion. People know where I stand." Moments later, as if to reinforce his point, the Quayle entourage heads for the Aid to Women Crisis Pregnancy Center in downtown Cedar Rapids. With TV cameras and newspaper reporters in tow, he tours the little storefront facility, making note of the free Bibles that are distributed to needy women along with food and baby clothes. He holds a press conference in the basement, guaranteeing priceless publicity to the center, which can ill afford to advertise. As appreciative staffers and volunteers look on, he praises the faith-based nature of Aid to Women and promises help from the Quayle administration. "These are dedicated workers," he stresses to the television cameras. "They're here because they believe they have a mission in life of helping other women that need to have special attention in a time of personal crisis." It's a small moment, but it's vintage Dan Quayle. There is no soaring oratory or bitter denunciation of the abortion industry. Instead, he recognizes the incremental nature of changing hearts and goes out of his way to make the sort of small gesture that, multiplied over time, he hopes will make a difference. That kind of innate decency wins almost universal acclaim for Mr. Quayle among Republicans. He's extremely well-liked on a personal level, even by those who think he doesn't have a prayer of winning the nomination. A group of five older people outside the Elks Lodge may be typical. Every one of them plans to vote for Mr. Quayle. They love his policy positions. They think he'd make a wonderful president. But can he win? There's a long pause. "I hope so," says one woman, crossing her arms over her heart in a gesture of almost motherly affection. "I hope so." She pauses again, as if afraid to say anything that might be construed as negative. "He almost seems like too nice a guy," she concludes at last. But those closest to Mr. Quayle say he shouldn't be underestimated on that count. Mr. Kristol believes that his four-year baptism by fire gave the vice president a tough hide and a firm backbone. "Dan Quayle had amazing good humor and good character about the unfair hand he was dealt," he says. "It gave him more determination to vindicate himself. You see that determination still today. He's very committed to this race even though a lot of people say, 'He's a great guy, but he can't win.'" Mr. Quayle himself acknowledges his desire for political redemption. "I've been through a lot," he admits. "I could have led a quiet, comfortable life with Marilyn and our children. But that's not me. I'm committed to public life. I enjoy public service; I think it's a noble calling. And I'm more determined than ever to get my agenda before the American people. "If I didn't believe I was the right person for this particular time, I wouldn't be doing it. I have a lot to offer the American people. The more they see of me, they'll see that I'm up off the mat fighting for them, and I think they're going to show more support for our campaign." The jokes have already begun, of course. On the day that former President Carter published a thoughtful op-ed protesting the war in Yugoslavia, Jay Leno quipped that Dan Quayle weighed in with "a very strongly worded 'Ziggy.'" Mr. Quayle says he's ready for the punches and the punchlines. He's been there before, and he survived it the last time around. But this time, he insists, he'll have the last laugh.

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