Is Jack Kemp a Team Player?

By Rust, Michael | Insight on the News, September 2, 1996 | Go to article overview

Is Jack Kemp a Team Player?


Rust, Michael, Insight on the News


Virtually no one expected Bob Dole to tap his old opponent, Jack Kemp, as his running mate. But to everyone's surprise, the unlikeliest of tickets is a reality -- although risky -- and many approve.

This time, it wasn't the quarterback who threw the bomb. Bob Dole, en route to San Diego to accept the Republican presidential nomination, rocked the race for the White House by heaving a political football for what he hopes will be long yardage. The former Kansas senator tapped longtime rival Jack Kemp as his running mate for the 1996 election.

The selection of Kemp -- a former nine-term congressman from New York and secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Bush -- shocked pols and pundits alike. Dole and Kemp have been at opposite ends of the GOP spectrum for almost two decades, and differences in philosophy and temperament seemed to preclude the selection of the ex-Buffalo Bills quarterback for the No. 2 slot. Indeed, Kemp tacitly acknowledged this when, earlier this year, he endorsed Steve Forbes for president even as most Republicans were scrambling to climb onto Dole's bandwagon.

While the selection of Kemp, 61, was surprising, it also was invigorating. The fact that Dole would reach out to his old rival was a heartening indication to party loyalists that their standard-bearer recognized the precariousness of his position. The other finalists for the vice-presidential slot -- Sen. Connie Mack of Florida and Michigan Gov. John Engler -- were acceptable to the GOP's conservative wing; both were associated with the tax-cutting growth agenda recently embraced by Dole. But only Kemp offered the element of surprise and daring -- which some observers thought was necessary for Dole if he hoped to gain ground on President Clinton.

Past enmity doesn't matter was the response of many Republicans in San Diego. "If Dole can select a man he doesn't even want a cup of coffee with," says GOP operative Grover Norquist, "then Kemp can become a team player." The Dole campaign was concerned enough about ghosts of the past to touch base with Christian Coalition leaders, including founder Pat Robertson, to ensure that they would not oppose the selection, campaign officials tell Insight. (They had been concerned that bad feelings from the 1988 campaign, when Robertson and Kemp battled for conservative votes, might have lingered.)

In some ways, a rapprochement between Dole and Kemp is a natural development, since both congressional leadership and the Dole campaign are brimming with former associates of Kemp. The "Amigos" -- friends who have met regularly since the days when they were regarded as troublemaking House backbenchers in the minority -- include Kemp, House Speaker Newt Gingrich, House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas, Sen. Dan Coates of Indiana and former Rep. Vin Weber. In Dole-for-President headquarters, campaign manager Scott Reed was a top strategist in Kemp's 1988 presidential bid, while communications director John Buckley was Kemp's spokesman during that campaign. Dole strategist Kevin Stach was an aide to Kemp both at HUD and Empower America, the think tank Kemp, along with former Education Secretary Bill Bennett, founded in 1993. Campaign insiders tell Insight that the push to select Kemp began in earnest with a meeting between Dole and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott on July 23. It gained momentum one week later when Bennett removed himself from consideration and urged the prospective nominee to choose Kemp.

The deal was only solidified in the last 24 hours before the announcement, these insiders say. Dole met with Kemp not in his apartment but in a 15th-floor suite of the exclusive Watergate apartment complex where the Doles make their home. Reportedly, Kemp mentioned the touchy subjects of affirmative action and immigration reform, about which he has parted company with many fellow Republicans. This meeting was not enough to assuage all GOP fears -- some Dole operatives worry that Kemp's skepticism toward immigration reform could cost the ticket dearly in California, where Bill Clinton already holds a huge lead -- but it was enough to clinch the deal, which soon was hailed by many San Diego-bound Republicans. …

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