Dole's next decision involves thinking about a supporting cast

April 01, 1996|By Jack W. Germond & Jules Witcover

WASHINGTON -- Now that Sen. Bob Dole has the Republican presidential nomination in his pocket, nearly five months before his party crowns him at its national convention, he's hearing plenty of ideas about how he should spend the time between now and then.

The one best geared to feed the political rumor mill is the notion that he should announce early not only his choice of a running mate but also his Cabinet, so as to let voters know what they would get along with Senator Dole himself.

Engler's brainchild

The scheme apparently is the brainchild of Republican Sen. John Engler of Michigan, who himself has his eye on the vice-presidential nomination.

Former Rep. Vin Weber of Minnesota, a national co-chairman of the Dole campaign, argues that Mr. Dole will have a better chance against President Clinton if the campaign is broadened to a choice between the Republican and Democratic parties. Identifying the party leaders he will bring into a Dole administration would help mightily to do that.

Aside from the minor matter that it's against the law to offer anyone a federal job in advance of an election, this idea has definite practical drawbacks. The most obvious is that it would give Mr. Clinton and the Democrats not a single target between now and the Republican convention in August but many.

Jumping the gun on naming a running mate is hardly a new idea. Even before the race for the presidential nomination began, there were suggestions to Senator Dole that he somehow get retired Gen. Colin Powell to run with him as a team, baiting the offer with a promise to make him secretary of state.

Twenty years ago, unsuccessfully challenging President Gerald Ford's nomination, Ronald Reagan's campaign manager, John Sears, persuaded his candidate to name his prospective running mate in advance of the convention, as a tactical ploy to keep the convention's decision open. The idea was to pick someone who might pry loose some delegate support from President Ford, who already had the delegates to be nominated or was close to it.

The further reasoning was that Ford would be pressured to do the same. His appointed vice president, Nelson Rockefeller, who filled the vacancy when Ford succeeded the resigned Richard Nixon, had already been persuaded to step aside, as a result of pressure from party conservatives.

A moderate choice

The moderate Sen. Richard Schweiker of Pennsylvania was tapped. Sears then moved to have the convention adopt a rule also requiring President Ford to name his running mate before the nomination roll call, on the notion that whoever Ford picked might shake up his own support and give Reagan a chance to steal some of it.

The proposal was rejected and Ford named his running mate after the roll call as usual -- as it turned out, a fellow named Bob Dole. But the ploy did succeed in keeping the Reagan candidacy breathing going into the convention. The central idea behind it was that the choice of a running mate would not help a ticket much but conceivably could hurt it by drawing fire with an unpopular selection.

The same point can now be made against picking not only a running mate but a prospective Cabinet in advance. It would give the Democrats many more targets to shoot at. Also, it might tend to diminish Senator Dole and, if he chose the sort of moderate Republicans being suggested -- former Secretary of State James Baker among them -- there might be hell to pay with the party's right wing.

Mr. Dole can accomplish the same objective of collecting bench strength by openly indicating the people with whom he's counseling between now and August.

It makes little sense for him to emphasize his party ties when polls say 64 percent of voters disapprove of the Republican-controlled Congress. Americans increasingly say they vote for man, not party. Mr. Dole the man has a strong record to run on in his own right and will be best served by doing so.

Jack W. Germond and Jules Witcover report from The Sun's Washington bureau.

Pub Date: 4/01/96

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