The Quayle Thesis

September 18, 1994

Now that Dan Quayle can claim Bill Clinton as a convert to his family-values crusade, he is to all appearances off and running for the 1996 Republican presidential nomination. Which brings him, not for the first time in his political career, to an awkwardness.

In his best-selling book, "Standing Firm," the former vice president makes a strong case for the perverse theory that if the Republicans are to have any hope of gaining a majority in the House of Representatives for the first time since 1952, the GOP will have to let the Democrats keep control of the White House for a least another election.

But let Mr. Quayle speak for himself:

"Republicans know that the only way they are ever going to build toward a majority of seats [in the House] is to have a long stretch -- at least two terms -- of Democrats in the White House. . . The truth is that minority parties pick up most of their seats in midterm elections that occur while the opposing party holds the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. . . The Republicans' best hope lies in chipping away at the Democrats' majority during a series of off-year elections, during which they can run against the White House."

Mr. Quayle says George Bush did not buy into this theory, "perhaps because it was too appalling to contemplate." But he believes. He believes, though he has "never advanced this theory before large groups." (How about 500,000 book buyers?) He believes, though he is loath to force GOP lawmakers to face up to their "subliminal mind-set," namely that "they don't really want a Republican in the White House."

Actually, the immediate past veep has statistics on his side. Since that long-ago day when the Republicans took control of the House for two rare years after Dwight Eisenhower's 1952 victory, there have been seven off-year elections with Republicans in the White House. On average, the GOP lost 23.4 seats. There also have been three mid-term elections with Democrats at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Average GOP gain: 21 seats.

So if the Quayle theory is correct, a Democratic victory in 1996 could set the GOP on a course to take over the House of Representatives in off-year 1998. Of course, that would require the Republican presidential nominee to lose in 1996, even if his name is Dan Quayle. No doubt Bill Clinton would concur wholeheartedly in this scenario.

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