Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Clinton's Handlers Outline a Counterpunching Strategy for '96

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Clinton's Handlers Outline a Counterpunching Strategy for '96

Article excerpt

When three White House speechwriters quit in disgust, unable to get access to or direction from the top man;

When the president is rightly treated as irrelevant after submitting a weak-kneed, punt-and-pray budget that helplessly runs up another trillion dollars in debt;

When his staff has to explain that his bonehead play to end the baseball strike failed at night and not during working hours - then a good case can be made that we are witnessing the disintegration of this presidency.

But it's too soon to write him off as a half-term president. To get an inkling of any strategy, grand or petit, to resuscitate Bill Clinton's political fortunes, I went to the White House to see George Stephanopoulos, his loyal aide, who turned 34 years old that day. As a sign of his maturing humility, we dined in the declasse "B" Mess.

"From now on, you're going to see the Liberated Clinton," Stephanopoulos said, determinedly optimistic. "We've got a good hammer in the Republican Contract."

But didn't Clinton's notion of campaigning as a liberal against the Gingrich Contract With America nationalize the local elections and backfire in the '94 campaign? His reply: "A flawed campaign strategy is not necessarily a flawed long-term strategy."

From his responses, and from other Clinton well-wishers, a pastiche of plans and hopes and guesses emerges that can generously be labeled a comeback strategy:

1. Concentrate on espousing "responsible" middle-class tax cuts that do not increase the deficit and boast of cutting the deficit as a percentage of gross domestic product. Negotiate tolerable welfare reform, some health fixes and at year's end come up with one hot new Topic X.

2. Do the gutsy "unpopular thing" by resisting the anti-government thrust; use the veto, as in defending the popular portions of the crime bill. Hit the conservative disentitlement brigade as "weak on work, tough on kids" and use GOP majority excesses as a foil.

3. Press foreign economic policy to generate jobs; though stupefyingly dull and unpopular, it shows leadership, as in the Mexican bailout, and drives a wedge between Republican internationalists and isolationists. …

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