"Mr. President" a reporter asked at yesterday's press conference, "what do you say to the pundits who suggested that as a result of your health scare over the weekend, you might reconsider keeping Dan Quayle on the ticket next year?" George Bush replied, "Do you want it by hand or do you want it by word? No, no! I'm no Nelson Rockefeller."
Before President Bush's weekend hospitalization, we had tTC prepared an editorial with the above headline that concluded, "We remain as convinced today as we were in 1988 that George Bush owes it to the nation and to history to get himself a new running mate. In his hands rests the most awesome power granted to any American -- the power to handpick a potential president. Victory in the Persian Gulf war has given Mr. Bush a pile of political capital, the recession notwithstanding. At the proper time he should spend it.
"The war has produced a number of possible running mates with a wide grasp of geo-political realities and a great deal of self-assurance. Among them are Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, Secretary of State James Baker and Gen. Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. We hope President Bush does not rule out a change. It could, in the end, be his highest public service."
The editorial was overtaken by events and never published. Still, we believe what we wrote even more strongly now. Dan Quayle is not qualified to lead this nation. Pundits are hardly the only ones who think that. The public thinks so, too. A Time/CNN poll taken last month found that only 19 percent of Americans would vote for Mr. Quayle for president in 1996.
Some supporters of the vice president say this public opinion reflects biased reporting and commentary. But the journalists the public depends on for information about Dan Quayle are the same ones the public depends on for information about George Bush, and his public support is extremely high. No, the reason we and most Americans do not believe Vice President Quayle is presidential material is that he has not demonstrated that he is.
Presidents don't often dump vice presidents. But it happens. Vice President Nelson Rockefeller -- he of the obscene hand gesture -- had to go in 1976, when conservatives convinced President Ford he was a liability.
The conventional wisdom is that the conservative wing of the GOP likes Mr. Quayle almost as much as it basically distrusts Mr. Bush, and supposedly would be outraged if its putative favorite for 1996 were denied renomination. But conservative Republicans must be realistic about 1996. If Mr. Quayle cannot convince Americans he is presidential material in four years, he cannot do it in eight. A Democrat might beat him in the general election in 1996, if a moderate Republican did not beat him in the primaries. Conservative Republicans should be the first to urge a replacement for Mr. Quayle.