GOP: Grand Old Panic Dole targeted: He should rebuff calls to give up Senate majority leader's post.

April 30, 1996

HARRY TRUMAN'S press secretary, Charlie Ross, noting early in the 1948 campaign how his boss was getting beat up by fellow Democrats, remarked: "You can guard yourself against the wiles of your enemies but not the stupidity of your friends." His words would apply these days to another plain-spoken man of the Midwest, Bob Dole, a choice target of panicky conservatives, most of whom have never wished him well.

Their chief advice, which isn't worth much, is that the GOP presidential nominee should give up his post as Senate majority leader for the supposed purpose of focusing on his national campaign. If Senator Dole has a Truman-like stubborn streak, as we suspect he has, he should reject these blandishments with a few barnyard epithets. The reasons are manifold.

The first has to do with power, which is what Washington is all about. As Senate majority leader, Mr. Dole has control of the GOP legislative agenda that would vanish once he gave up his position. His successor would be Sen. Trent Lott, who will not forget that Mr. Dole backed his rival, Sen. Alan Simpson, for the majority whip's post. While Mr. Dole and Mr. Lott have similar (and conservative) voting records, the latter has an entry ticket to the Republican right that has long been denied Mr. Dole.

The second reason has to do with visibility. With a "Rotunda strategy," the majority leader guarantees himself an up-front spot in news coverage during this political slack season. Those who would have him bouncing around the country cannot make a convincing case that this would be more effectively advance his candidacy. Nor have they revealed where he would get the money to do so since he drained his treasury to fight GOP rivals they promoted.

The third reason for the majority leader to stay put is a matter of substance. As a legislator, Mr. Doles has learned the arts of compromise and consensus, much to the dismay of ideologues who believe their way is the only way. The little barnstorming Mr. Dole has done has been marred by the exaggeration and distortion of this sound-bite era. Americans, whatever their view, are better served by Mr. Dole's struggles in the legislative arena.

Some Democrats agree heartily that Bob Dole should give up his majority leader's post. "The Senate floor has become quicksand for Senator Dole," said President Clinton's backroom aide, George Stephanopoulos. Such comments from real-life foes or dubious friends should convince Mr. Dole to stay where he is.

Pub Date: 4/30/96

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