Try as he might, Dan Quayle is finding it tough to shrug off the nagging echoes of last week’s vice presidential debate.
Five days after the Indiana Republican first heard it in Omaha, that troublesome question was uttered aloud again here Monday, just after Quayle finished a speech on economic policy:
What would you do if you suddenly had to assume the duties of the President?
“Lemme tell you!” snapped the peeved senator. “That question in my judgment was inappropriate. . . . You know the questioner (in the debate) didn’t have a factual situation. It was a complete hypothetical!”
When he was repeatedly asked the question during the Omaha debate, he had stressed his qualifications but did not offer a straightforward answer. Between three denunciations of the questions posed by the debate panel, however, Quayle did answer with some specificity on Monday.
Quayle said his response would depend on the reason he had to assume the presidency. His initial move, he said, echoing his answer on debate night, would be to say a prayer.
Then, he said: “If it’s an assassination, the first thing you do is you get on the phone and call the head of the CIA and see what he thinks it was. You don’t convene a Cabinet meeting right away--you call him.
“You get your secretary of defense, your national security adviser, your secretary of state and you meet with them immediately. If it’s a situation of an illness (that takes the President’s life), it’d be a different situation.”
Would Call News Conference
In either case, the Indiana senator added, he would address the nation on television and hold a news conference “to show that things were going forward.”
The question was the second of four asked of Quayle at the Economic Club of Detroit, where he appeared before attending a pep rally in nearby Farmington Hills and a fund-raiser in Akron, Ohio.
Aides said Quayle presumed that the questions, written on cards and given to the moderator by audience members, would center on economic policy. But the moderator who asked the question--a Quayle partisan who blurted “Attaboy!” into the microphone as the senator answered--said several of the cards bore the same query.
The surprised Quayle grew sharply defensive, as he has when questioned about earlier controversies surrounding his campaign.
“Certainly I know what to do and when I am vice president--and I will be,” he said, “there will be contingency plans under different situations.
Put Plans in a Safe
“And I’ll tell you what--I’m not going to go out and have a news conference about it (the plans), I’m going to put it in a safe and keep it there! Does that answer the question?”
Despite Quayle’s expectation that voters would have lost interest in the tempest by now, there were continuing indications Monday that the debate performance--and the larger question of Quayle’s readiness to assume higher office--pose a significant problem for the Bush campaign.
In addition to the questions at the Detroit convocation, Quayle encountered demonstrators in Farmington Hills outside the Oakland Community College gymnasium, who chanted, “Quayle’s no J.F.K.” as the candidate arrived. They referred to Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Lloyd Bentsen’s remark that Quayle is “no Jack Kennedy.”
Upon landing at Akron/Canton airport, Quayle was asked by reporters to review his performance.
“I think we did very well,” he said. “We feel it ignited a spark in our campaign.”
Bush Support Affected
But a new Los Angeles Times Poll shows that Quayle cost Bush support nationally. And defensive signs have sprouted in the ranks of Quayle supporters. “Quayle is qualified,” said one on display in Farmington Hills.
The renewed focus on Quayle’s debate responses took attention away from an economics speech in which Quayle blamed former President Jimmy Carter for the nation’s past economic ills and defended the Reagan Administration from criticisms that its domestic cuts hurt the poor.
“They will tell you that we have paid for peace by slashing programs for the needy and helpless in our land,” he said. “But let me tell you, the facts say otherwise. . . . We have kept our commitment to the truly needy.”
Quayle cited increases in spending for education, student loans and grants, the handicapped and Medicaid, among others. But most of the increases he mentioned were fought by the Reagan Administration and approved only after a bipartisan outcry in Congress.
“This year, an election year, is the first time the Reagan Administration didn’t request a cut (in education funding),” said David Merkowitz, a spokesman for the American Council on Education.
Claim Credit for Increases
The Indiana senator’s aides said it was legitimate to claim credit for increases when the Administration had recommended budget cutbacks.
“We signed the bills,” said adviser Steve Bell. “Those signings led to the numbers we have.”
At his Farmington Hills pep rally, Quayle returned to the subject of the economy in an effort to chide the Democratic presidential nominee, Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis.
“You don’t want a future shaped by the ‘Gloomy Gus’ mentality of the man from Massachusetts,” Quayle said. “What you want is the hope, the optimism and the high spirits created by the Reagan-Bush Administration.”
A group of students nearby chanted: “Eight more years.”