Dole Wins Debate
Jude Wanniski
October 7, 1996


Memo To: Jack Kemp
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Instant analysis

1. Dole’s performance was good enough to keep the race alive. He “won” in the sense that he solidified his base of support among white suburbanites, who have to be enthusiastic about him in order to win over Reagan Democrats and independents. He was definitely in command throughout, a father figure -- serious and stern, but good-humored and fair, with the President seeming hesitant, defensive, boyish -- as if he knows deep down that Dole might actually make a better President. My wife, a registered Democrat, has never been a Dole fan, but she was very impressed with his overall performance and startled by Clinton’s defensiveness. My mother, 79, has said she would never vote for Dole because he is too much of a “bomber,” still will not vote for him, but said she thought he seems like he would make a good President.

2. Dole’s high point for me was his aggressiveness in saying we are not better off than we were four years ago -- that Clinton may be and others may be, but too many have been left behind. This is why I think he immediately put Clinton on the defensive, because the President has to know the economic statistics he cites reveal a population struggling to make ends meet. Dole’s confidence in standing behind his economic program has to rattle Clinton, who could only cite unnamed economists and Al D’Amato in opposition. Dole’s statement several times that this is very serious business was that of a father almost angry at his son’s inattentiveness to the family business. Bill Clinton’s insecurity showed through.

3. My wife thought Dole’s low point came in twice bringing up the fact that he would refer to Clinton as Mr. President, while in 1992, Clinton throughout his debates referred to the President as “Mr. Bush.” I thought so too, but on reflection this morning I think this is the way Dole chose to underscore the “character issue.” In the same way, by telling the President he should have said “no comment” when asked about presidential pardons, he was lecturing him on the proprieties of being President.

4. Dole’s weakest point came in his discussion of Cuba, in which he tended to reinforce my mother’s “bomber image.” Yet Clinton remained on the defensive, almost apologizing for his softer stand in trying to find a way to resolve the Cuba problem. Dole had him in a crack, because Clinton did sign the Helms-Burton act, yet deferred its provisions, obviously not knowing how to handle the Cuban-American emigres and the Florida vote.

5. Where I think Dole is still leaving too much to Clinton is on the issue of tax cuts and Medicare. Saying “I trust the people and Clinton trusts the government” is a nice sound bite, but it is a zero-sum statement that does nothing to relieve the fears of ordinary people that Dole & Gingrich will take bites out of the safety net. In the same way, I woke up this morning troubled by Dole saying two or three times that it’s time we caused the government to have to pinch pennies -- a very David Stockman, “Starve the Beast” line. Your performance on "Meet the Press" yesterday was far more reassuring, in stating a belief that the economy can grow faster and produce more revenue -- which is what Dole should have done more of. Dole barely mentioned the revolutionary reform of the tax system, which is the greatest weapon of your team, the one Clinton cannot counter. Notice that Johnny Apple of the NYTimes noted Dole’s failure to stress total tax reform in his excellent summation of the debate in this morning’s Times.

6. On the 11 pm local news last night on ABC in New York, the affiliate reported that 50% of the people said Clinton won the debate and only 30% said Dole. They then showed a reporter who had spent the evening with a family in Passaic, about 15 or 20 people including friends and neighbors. It was an Italian-American family, basically Republican. A film clip showed several people being interviewed before the debate, and each expressed reservations about Dole, wondering if he was up to it. After the debate, he interviewed the group and found they have overcome their reservations are were very happy with Dole.

7. What this means to me is that you and Bob have rallied your troops, who will now be able to head out into their contacts with the rest of the country and make the case on your behalf. They were not doing this prior to last night, which is why it has been so hard for you to make headway. It is for this reason that I can say Dole “won” the debate. Your performance Wednesday night with Vice President Gore has to put more ammunition into the hands of that Passaic family, and others like them, as they try to persuade Clinton leaners and undecided independents that Dole and Kemp can do more for the country and the world in the next four years than a reprise of Clinton and Gore.