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"There's so much riding on one word?" Stephanopoulos asked in frustration. Yes, Morris said. The ad ran unchanged, and boomeranged. The pundits lit into Clinton as a rabbit puncher who first praised Dole for his service, then thumped him with a low blow. At a Clinton speech, hecklers held up signs that said, DOLE IS NO QUITTER. After that, Clinton pounded his consultant. "It's easy for you," he told Morris. "You don't have to stand up there and take the shit." Morris pulled the spot, but he was unrepentant. The ad, he insisted, had contained Dole's bounce.
Dole's resignation was not evidence of a strategy. it was the strategy itself. Apart from taking off his tie and giving the best speech of his life, Dole had no plan. The candidate kept the campaign manager off balance, and the campaign manager did the same to everyone else. Reed wouldn't let anyone get closer to Dole than he was, yet made little out of whatever closeness he did forge with the candidate.
The campaign was like a law firm, thought new hire Mike Murphy, a shaggy, wisecracking adman who had worked for Alexander in the primaries and Dole in 1988. Everyone worked in a tidy little office, isolated from the others. To make the trains run on time, Elizabeth Dole had forced Reed to bring in Donald Rumsfeld, a Ford-era Defense Secretary with a buttoned-down style. Reed and his new favorite, John Buckley, became the campaign's twin partners, ruling on everything. Buckley, a refugee from Fannie Mae who became communications director in June, was someone who Reed boasted would be the big-think "corporate guy." Corporate was just about right, thought Murphy.
By midsummer, the message had been scattered across hundreds of little index cards. Murphy had produced the cards, handy "talking points" for aides, staff and Friends of Bob to carry around in their pockets. "The Better Man for a Better America," one card was headed. Below it were subheads: Economy, Opportunity, Quality of Life. Under each subhead were topics: Balanced Budget, Welfare, Crime. But this wasn't a message. It was a list.
On July 24, Murphy and Sipple sent a two-page confidential strategy memo to Reed titled "Victory Strategy: Post Convention to Labor Day." It read, "The Goal: Get Campaign on the Offensive. Create Momentum. Hurt Clinton." Can't argue with that. The idea was to use the time leading up to the convention "to re-establish the right/wrong and moral-crisis agenda." Dole should launch his "tax cut/growth plan" during the convention, they said, then promote it on a whistle-stop tour.
The idea had the virtue of directness: using moral issues to blame Clinton for the nation's decay, then offering the tax cut as a positive (and moral) alternative. But Reed and Buckley opposed its timing. They wanted the tax cut announced before the convention. Murphy and Sipple later surmised that Reed thought then--even if he hadn't yet persuaded Dole--that Jack Kemp would be the vice-presidential nominee. The tax cut had to come before the convention to make the choice of a pro-growth supply-sider more logical--and less craven.