Keywords: Bob Dole, Bob Dole, Bob Dole, Republican, Republican, Party, Election, Politics, President, Scandal, Finance, Illegal Contributions, Money, FEC
Republicans see Dole as Loser
The threat of mutiny spread through the Republican Party yesterday as senior leaders turned on the crashing campaign of presidential candidate Bob Dole. One prominent figure publicly urged him to withdraw before next month's convention in San Diego.
The first signs of a Dump Dole movement came yesterday when Republican activist Arianna Stassinopoulos Huffington broke ranks to demand Mr Dole step aside and be replaced by a new nominee.
"Increasingly there are people talking about, 'How can we convince Bob Dole to withdraw?'," said the Cambridge-educated Ms Huffington, a close associate of House Speaker Newt Gingrich and a leading figure in Washington Republican circles.
She suggested party elders approach Mr Dole and say: "Listen, for the sake of the party, for the sake of keeping our majorities in the House and the Senate, we need to find an excuse - health, whatever - and bring somebody else on."
Her remarks came amid whispers from dozens of top Republicans, panicked that Mr Dole's campaign is in free fall. Many have written off his chances of beating President Clinton in November. Latest polls show Mr Clinton maintaining a 20-plus point lead.
Republican officials insisted yesterday that the chances of Mr Dole being forced to quit are slim. He has an overwhelming majority of committed delegates at the August convention, and he is the only viable candidate acceptable to all wings of the party.
"Colin Powell isn't going to touch it with a 10ft bargepole," said Kevin Phillips, an analyst and Republican party expert, referring to the retired general and Gulf war hero who is still regarded as a saviour who could trounce Mr Clinton.
All of Mr Dole's initial primary challengers are non-starters. The one who performed best, firebrand Pat Buchanan, is too extreme for party moderates and would fare even worse than Mr Dole against Mr Clinton, according to polls.
Even if it is a political impossibility, the mere fact that Republicans are fantasising about dropping Mr Dole shows the depth of despair felt by his campaign.
The candidate is under fire from all sides. Moderates accuse him of caving in to the religious right on abortion, failing to send the right message on race and causing huge damage with remarks doubting the addictive power of tobacco.
Gen Powell has led the charge, attacking him for failing to attend last week's convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, the nation's oldest civil rights organisation. Mr Dole blamed a scheduling problem and later said the left-leaning head of the association was trying to "set me up".
Hardliners have also been angered by Mr Dole's selection on Tuesday of Congresswoman Susan Molinari, an abortion rights supporter, to deliver the keynote speech in San Diego. Ralph Reed, director of the mighty Christian Coalition, said the choice was a step in the "wrong direction".
But the greatest criticism is reserved for Mr Dole's deficiencies as a candidate. "He doesn't have a clue," wrote conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer.
Republicans were particularly embarrassed by a joint appearance on CNN's Larry King Live by Mr Dole and his wife Elizabeth. Clearly irritated by her husband's inability to stay "on-message", she repeatedly grabbed his hand and cut him off when he threatened to wander off the point.
Mr Dole's handlers have now ruled that he does not answer spontaneous questions from reporters, except during set piece interviews.
Pessimistic advisers are fearful that even the selection of a high-energy running mate will not help, serving instead to highlight his failings.
Colin Powell: Former chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff. Revered as the most popular man in America, and still the object of Republican fantasies as a potential saviour of the 1996 campaign, he refuses to campaign for Mr Dole. Criticising the candidate's no -show at a black civil rights gathering: "I think it would have been useful to present his views. But apparently his schedule would not permit him to do that." Has also attacked Mr Dole's position on abortion and affirmative action.
William Buckley: Founder of the National Review and grand old man of US conservativism.
"As things are now, Mr Dole threatens to be an entirely lost figure in American history. A loser does not necessarily remain invisible. Barry Goldwater (campaigning in 1964 for the Republicans) permanently imprinted his priorities on the body politic. So did George McGovern (the Democrat who lost in 1972). Bob Dole threatens to leave no trace whatever."
Alphonse D'Amato: Tough senator from New York, co-chairman of the Dole campaign, and a key Republican attack dog.
Bill and Hillary Clinton's chief tormentor on the Whitewater affair. He says: "Right now Mr Dole's campaign is lacking a very powerful economic message, which I know they're working on." He also accuses him of being "unfocused" and of making a "generational" mistake when he recently caused a furore by saying nicotine was not addictive.
Ralph Reed: Executive director of the Christian Coalition, which exercises a virtual veto over Bob Dole's choice of running mate. "While we understand Senator Dole's desire to close the gender gap, we stress that he must remain sensitive and committed to the needs of social conservatives, who could turn out in record numbers in November and provide him with the margin of victory". On Monday, he accused Mr Dole of moving in the "wrong direction" on abortion.
Arianna Stassinopoulos Huffington: Greek-born, British-educated and now a Republican hostess. Came to prominence in 1994 when her millionaire husband, Michael Huffington, spent a good chunk of his personal fortune trying and failing to acquire a seat in the US Senate. Long an opponent of Mr Dole's, she is now willing to say so "on the record, because I feel that those who care for the party don't want to see a debacle in November".
Cal Thomas calls to Dump Dole
"Party leaders are now faced with three choices.
"They can place their faith in special counsel Kenneth Starr, in hopes that he will get a credible and damaging indictment agains one or both of the Clintons before election day.
"They can accept the unpleasant prospect of a decisive Clinton reelection triumph based on personal and political deception that would, among other things, produce two or three liberal Supreme Court justices and another 40-year reign of legal error.
"Or they can advance their efforts to reform government and restore public confidence in it by peruading Dole to relinquish the nomination and throw open the Republican convention next month in San Diego. Such an act would forever enshrine Dole as a man who put his party and its prospects, along with its principles, ahead of his own interests. It would also electrify the party and put the smug people of the Clinton administration into a defensive posture which they might not recover.
"What would it take to make Dole step aside? William Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, thinks Newt Gingrich ("who will never be President, so what does he have to lose?") could make it happen, especially if he were backed up by William Bennett and Jack Kemp. I would add Sen. John McCain of Arizona. The effort might not work but should be made.
"Republicans must enter whatever is the contemporary equivalent of a smoke-filled room, now, not in San Diego, and ask themselves whether it is worth losing everything that conservatives have worked for since Barry Goldwater just so Bob Dole can go down in flames, taking other Republicans with him. Is giving Dole the nomination just because he has waited in line the longest worth unleashing Bill and Hillary Clinton for four more years?
"An open convention could nominate a fresh face, in the sense that he would not have been beaten to death by sound bites and irrelevancies as Dole has. Who that might be is up to the delegates.
"Such a course would be better than disaster, and a growing number of conservatives around the country think that disaster is the destination of the Dole candidacy. If they are going to lose, they reason, they would rather do it with someone who inspires more faith and trust than Dole.
"Those who want to stick with Dole must say by what scenario they believe he'll win. Dole is a great American but a terrible presidential candidate. Many would consider him an even greater American if he stepped aside."