WASHINGTON -- According to former Vice President Dan Quayle in his new book, "Standing Firm," one of the reasons he and former President George Bush lost their 1992 re-election bid was that their campaign was badly handled by Robert Teeter, the Detroit pollster who ran the operation for most of the year, and former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, who moved in at Bush's urgent plea right after the Republican National Convention.
Quayle is somewhat of an expert on political handlers. He himself was kept on a very short leash in the 1988 campaign by a pair of experienced Republican operatives, Stuart Spencer and Joseph Canzeri, assigned to him by Baker, who was running the Bush campaign then. They didn't save Quayle from a number of gaffes that haunted him throughout his vice presidency, together with some later relapses of foot-in-mouth disease.
Teeter, Quayle writes, was "inexplicably complacent" even when the Bush-Quayle ticket was more than 20 percentage points behind the Democratic ticket of Bill Clinton and Al Gore after the Democratic convention. And Baker, he writes, "set things up so that, if we managed to win, he would look like Houdini, whereas if we lost, as he seemed to expect, nobody would be able to blame him."
While both those observations may be true, there was one other principal in the Republican scenario who deserved a greater share of the blame for the defeat -- Bush himself. Repeatedly throughout 1991, according to various Bush campaign insiders, Bush declined to address urgings from Teeter and other campaign strategists to start organizing in earnest for the 1992 race. He also resisted their pleas that he start making speeches to the voters indicating his concern for the economic distress many were facing and saying what he intended to do about it.
Quayle can't be blamed, however, for trying to make Baker and Teeter the goats of the 1992 defeat. When Bush originally picked Quayle to be his running mate in 1988, Baker made a point of saying he hadn't been consulted -- a way of conveying his limited enthusiasm for the choice -- although he was the closest political adviser to Bush.
And before the 1992 convention, Teeter had a poll taken on how Quayle and potential substitutes on the ticket would affect its support. According to William Kristol, Quayle's chief of staff at the time, the poll failed to show, however, that the identity of the running mate would make much difference. If there was a dump-Quayle effort, it was a feeble and ineffective one.
Quayle says in his book that he remembers "early on telling Teeter that the American people knew Bush was a better man than Clinton, but that they needed a positive reason to keep him in charge for four more years. Teeter and the rest of the campaign people," Quayle writes, "would always say not to worry, the big reason would be coming in the next big speech, the State of the Union or, as the months went by (each of them wasted), the acceptance speech in Houston. But they never succeeded in concentrating the campaign or the president on a big theme."
All that, too, also was true. But it was Bush himself, too involved in being president and wanting to hold off campaigning for re-election as long as he could, who balked at making a speech telling voters how he intended to improve conditions with four more years in the presidency. In this resistance, he was bolstered by his economic advisers telling him the country was about to pull out of its recession, and all he needed to do was sit tight.
Quayle also blames Baker, Teeter and former Treasury Secretary Nicholas F. Brady for getting Bush to raise taxes, breaking his celebrated "read my lips" pledge not to do so. But Bush was president and it was his decision. And Quayle faults the campaign strategists for the intolerant tone of the GOP convention, but it was Bush's broken promise that led to efforts in Houston to placate the party's outraged right wing.
One thing Quayle can be grateful for. What he calls "the most poorly planned and executed incumbent presidential campaign this century" got him off the hook. In the end, few blamed Quayle, after all the ridicule of him, for loss of the White House.