The Quayle Hunt
For most of four years, the men around George Bush had looked on his alliance with J. Danforth Quayle in the manner of relatives regarding a bad marriage in the family; it was, in their eyes, a mismatch that could not be undone and so had to be endured. But with the president's swoon in the polls, the search for an offering to the gods began, and Quayle, the butt of a million late-show jokes, was by far the most tempting. By summer, Bush was hearing from party leaders, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford only the most prominent among them, that he needed to find somebody better to run with. "Boy, there sure are a lot of people against Quayle," the president said in private wonderment during a road trip in July.
There were, among them the president's son George W. and, covertly, the senior leaders of what was nominally the Bush-Quayle campaign -- and they came nearer than the world would know to winning the president around to their cause. Bush entertained and finally even invited suggestions that he pitch the vice president overboard and replace him with someone of greater stature -- someone, say, like General Colin Powell, or Senator Bob Dole, or Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney. During the month between conventions, the president seemed to people privy to his deliberations to be at the point of giving in. What finally saved Quayle was not so much the president's faith or loyalty as his fear of the consequences. He could not bring himself, in the end, to tell the vice president that he was off the ticket, though that was what Bush wanted. Instead, he clung to the forlorn secret hope that his protégé would fall unbidden on his sword.
The irony was that Quayle's rehabilitation seemed till then to have been making some progress. He could not change his pale eyes, which looked like windows into an unfurnished room, or his accident-prone tongue, which rivaled Bush's own; together, they were to the language what Thelma and Louise were to male chauvinists or Bonnie and Clyde to small-town banks. Neither could Quayle easily make the sages of Washington believe in him or his long-term prospects. Even