Quayle As All-american Punching Bag On The Political Scene

May 07, 1994|By Paul West | Paul West,Washington Bureau of The Sun

ROSSLYN, VA — ROSSLYN, Va. -- Today's stop on Dan Quayle's comeback trail is an office tower on the banks of the Potomac.

But as he fidgets in his chair, musing about a return to power and looking out at Washington across the way, the gap between his dream and political reality seems much wider than the river's green waters.

For four long years, Mr. Quayle served as a punching bag for late-night TV comics.

"Unfortunately, the jokes were the defining moments" of his vice presidency, Mr. Quayle writes in his new score-settling memoir, "Standing Firm."

In 1988, he was introduced to the nation as a "pampered pea brain," as he puts it.

His image never recovered, despite a creditable performance in the 1992 campaign (which he calls "the most poorly planned and executed incumbent presidential campaign in this century").

Now, having avoided the spotlight since he left office, Mr. Quayle is emerging to promote his book and test the waters for a 1996 presidential campaign.

At age 47, after months of reflection and leisure (his golf handicap has been lowered to 4), he's tanned and rested. But is he ready?

Even some of his closest advisers don't think so, and there doesn't appear to be much enthusiasm at the moment within the Republican Party.

"I think most people would perceive that this is not his time," says Alec Poitevint, a national committeeman from Georgia who chaired a conference last weekend in Atlanta that showcased five '96 Republican hopefuls.

If he runs, Mr. Quayle would target his party's conservative wing, including the Christian right.

Mr. Quayle says his faith in Christ helped him get through the crises of his vice presidency.

His book, published under the imprint of a religious publishing house, contains more than a dozen references to his religious faith and to Christianity, including his statement that "sadly, prejudice against conservative Christians is probably the only acceptable form of bigotry in today's America."

"Dan Quayle has got an awful lot of supporters out there," says Ralph E. Reed Jr., executive director of the Christian Coalition, a grass-roots organization founded by the Rev. Pat Robertson. "A tremendous number of people felt he was done wrong in 1988 and 1992.

"But," adds Mr. Reed, "the question is whether or not four years is enough for him to rehabilitate himself. Even Nixon pursued an eight-year strategy [after his defeat in the 1960 presidential election]."

In an interview, Mr. Quayle makes it clear he thinks he has something to offer the country and that the politician in him sees 1996 as a wide-open opportunity.

"I'll have to make a tentative decision this fall to form an exploratory committee," he says. "I think '96 is going to be a good year to be running."

After living in the Washington area for 16 years, Mr. Quayle has moved back to his native Indianapolis, where his wife, Marilyn, has joined a law firm.

Besides cashing in on his fame by traveling the speaking circuit, Mr. Quayle also works for a consulting firm that advises clients on matters affecting currency exchange rates.

He's in the midst of a string of network TV appearances (including "Prime Time Live" on Thursday, "Larry King Live" last night, "This Week With David Brinkley" tomorrow and the morning shows next week).

His book tour will take him to 36 cities by July 1, and he plans to do more than sell books. "I'm going to walk into the coffee shop," he says. "I'm going to talk to the people."

In the book, Mr. Quayle reveals that he considered running for president himself in 1988, "came close" to quitting the ticket after his selection as vice president set off a furor about his Vietnam-era National Guard service, and never agreed with Mr. Bush's politically damaging decision to break his no-new-taxes promise in 1990.

He also confesses to mistakes, including an acknowledgement that he should not have compared himself to John F. Kennedy in his 1988 vice-presidential debate with Lloyd M. Bentsen and his hindsight belief that he should have been coached on his speaking style much earlier than the 1992 campaign.

With more than 350,000 copies in print and a second printing under way, Mr. Quayle may well get a spot on the best-seller list. But the book has also revived the very sort of ridicule he had hoped to put behind him.

"CBS Evening News" used the book as an opportunity to air an unflattering report about Mr. Quayle that recycled footage of old gaffes and of the latest David Letterman joke about the former vice president's spelling prowess.

The editors of Time had the same idea, putting the headline "A Not-So-Hot Potato" on an article in the current issue that quotes an unnamed Republican consultant as saying that Mr. Quayle had "poured gas on himself and touched it off" with his book.

Mr. Quayle said yesterday that he intended to write "a personal political story of me, how I weathered sort of unprecedented media abuse, and succeeded."

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