Quayle a 'new' man with familiar ideas He touts tax reform, family values in run for presidency in 2000

BIRMINGHAM, ALA. — BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Plenty of politicians are suddenly itching to overhaul the Internal Revenue Service. But Dan Quayle was for tax reform before tax reform was cool, as he is reminding audiences around the country these days.

Over pork barbecue, blackberry cobbler and pitchers of iced tea, he tells the Birmingham Rotary Club about the modified flat tax he proposed in the 1980s. Simplicity, Efficiency, Lower rates and Fairness, it was called. SELF, for short.


"S-E-L-F," Quayle says, pronouncing each letter carefully. "You can trust me on the spelling of that." The room erupts with knowing laughter.

Five years after he and President George Bush were turned out of office, Quayle is coming back. He makes no effort to disguise what he's unofficially launched: an all-out try for the presidency.


"I'm clearly thinking about it," he repeats with a boyish grin as he races from appearance to appearance, picking up IOUs from local Republican candidates and recruiting donors for his fledgling political operation.

His recent speeches have drawn heavy applause from rank-and-file Republicans and positive notices in the national press. In part, that may reflect the low expectations many hold for him as a campaigner; the mere fact he spoke for 30 minutes without notes at a Republican conference in August was widely noted.

Others who have seen him are convinced he's a changed man.

'Like night and day'

"There's a whole new Dan Quayle," says Steve Roberts, a veteran Republican Party official from Iowa. "He's more self-confident, articulate, relaxed. He's got a good sense of humor. The difference is like night and day."

Still, for many Republicans, the question will be: Is Dan Quayle the candidate who can win back the White House for the party in 2000? The answer, in Republican circles in Washington, is no.

"He's never going to get the respect around here," concedes a former aide.

Outside the beltway, however, where the nomination will be decided, Quayle enjoys celebrity status. Conservatives remember his early emphasis on family values, including his attack on television's Murphy Brown for having a baby out of wedlock. To many who feel he was unfairly portrayed as a dunce by the liberal media, Quayle is a hero.


"He's weathered so many storms," says Greg Ray, 32, of Huntsville, Ala.. "He doesn't back down." Ray, who heard Quayle speak in the state capital recently, added that he would "absolutely" vote for him for president.

With no clear favorite for the Republican nomination, it would be a mistake to write anyone off at this early stage, Quayle included.

"He'll surprise a lot of people," predicts Bob Bennett, the Ohio Republican chairman, who ranks Quayle in the first tier of Republican presidential contenders. "He's going around doing all the things he should be doing."

'I'm working everybody'

Quayle has been to 37 states this year. On Oct. 26, he will make his initial visit to New Hampshire, site of the first primary, to address the Republican Party's fall dinner. "I'm working everybody," Quayle says in an interview.

He's helping Republican candidates in congressional and state races raise money for their campaigns. In a single day last spring, Quayle and Jim Gilmore, the Republican nominee for governor of Virginia, raked in about $1 million.


He's also building his own fund-raising machine. His political action committee has raised $1.6 million toward its $2 million goal this year. Only Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott's and House Speaker Newt Gingrich's PACs have collected more, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Quayle is doing much of the fund raising himself, through private breakfasts, lunches and dinners with supporters. Some money will be donated to other candidates. But most will be used to pay for his PAC and its staff of 12.

Friends say Quayle does not underestimate how tough it will be to win. Overcoming his past may turn out to be his biggest challenge. As vice president, he was treated as a long-running joke by late-night TV comics. Shreds of damaging information, such as his famous misspelling of "potato-e," are permanently embedded in the public's memory.

Showing a 'different side'

To soften their impact, Quayle sprinkles self-deprecating humor, such as spelling jokes, into his speeches. "You've got to humble yourself a little bit," he explains. "Let people see a little different side than they're used to" and "build it into an asset."

At the same time, he is going to great lengths to keep his distance from Washington and the national press corps. He's shifted his base of operations to the desert Southwest, though his wife, Marilyn, still works for a law firm based in Indianapolis, their old hometown. From their new house in Paradise Valley, Ariz., it's a short hop to California, the mother lode of campaign money and delegate votes. He makes the trip about twice a month.


In many ways, the "new" Quayle looks and sounds much like the pre-Bush version. Up close, his complexion is ruddy, his face unlined. He appears more youthful than his 50 years and still thinks of himself as young -- although his two college-age children, he says dryly, do not. He no longer commands a retinue of vice-presidential assistants. Now he travels with a single aide and carries his own bags.

When he talks politics, it's almost as though the Bush presidency never happened. Quayle likes to recall his years as an Indiana politician. And some of the ideas he is promoting -- cutting taxes and spending more on national defense, as well as school choice and term limits for Congress -- are the same ones he rode to a Senate seat in the Reagan landslide of 1980.

"He's not going to run as a Bush Republican," says William Kristol, his former chief of staff. "What the party wants is a Reaganite candidate. Quayle can lay claim to that. He was an authentic Reaganite senator. If he runs as Reagan's heir, and if he can be bold on a couple of issues, as Reagan was in the late 1970s, I think he's got a shot."

Quayle stresses that he no longer needs to "parrot the president's agenda. Now, when you're running for president, if I choose to run, people are going to look and say: 'OK, here's what he's going to do. Here's what his vision is. Here's what he is all about.' "

Inside but outside

He's campaigning as an outsider, despite having spent most of his adult life in Washington. Last summer, he took on his party's congressional leadership -- to the loud approval of Republican activists at the first "cattle show" of the 2000 race. The Republican Congress, he charged, has been too eager to compromise with President Clinton and to cut a budget deal that increases spending and complicates the tax system.


"Even though I was inside for 16 years, I've always felt that I was fighting on the outside," he says. "It's very easy for me to continue that fight from the outside."

As an out-of-office politician, he's free to campaign full time. He teaches a weekly seminar on trade issues at Thunderbird American Graduate School in Glendale, Ariz. But he spends most of his time on the road, while earning a comfortable living on the speaking circuit and corporate boards.

A recent evening found Quayle in Montgomery, Ala., just back from a board meeting in Italy. He was the star attraction at a fund-raising dinner for Faulkner University, formerly Alabama Christian College.

For a 20-minute speech on family values, he received his usual fee of $30,000, according to a university official. As he often does, Quayle also spent an hour at a private reception, patiently posing for photographs, assembly-line fashion, with hundreds of guests.

Like the audience that warmly greeted his defense of "old-fashioned" morality that night, religious and social conservatives are central to his plan to emerge as the candidate of the Republican right. But Quayle could face stiff competition from rivals, including Steve Forbes and Sen. John Ashcroft of Missouri, who are targeting the same voters.

And he can't expect much help from Bush, whose eldest son, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, is likely to run in 2000. Recent news reports, based on a new biography of the former president, revealed that in the days after he chose Quayle as his running mate, Bush told his diary: "I blew it."


Bush has not publicly explained what he meant, though his spokesman said the quote was taken out of context. In a private note to Quayle, Bush wrote that "when I said, 'I blew it,' I was talking about my own relations with the press."

Quayle says he doesn't believe the widespread interpretation of Bush's words. He's "clearly" been hurt, once again, by "sloppy journalism," he says. But he adds, in good-natured frustration, "What can somebody like myself do?"

For Quayle, the news media, which have seldom given him a break since he burst into the national consciousness almost a decade ago, loom as a potential hurdle. He remains an irresistible target for reporters' zingers, in part because he can't seem to shake a penchant for verbal gaffes. (In an interview, he sums up the public attitude toward political parties as a "pock on both houses.")

If he manages to achieve his White House dream, it would represent the most remarkable comeback in American politics since Richard Nixon's 30 years ago. Quayle appears to be preparing for the long haul, with all the sunny optimism that once was his trademark. At his age, he notes, if he doesn't make it in 2000, he'd still have as many as five more presidential tries left after that.

Pub Date: 10/20/97