'Quayle Trail' Was Bumpy Road for Presidential Advisers

Times Political Writer

A year or so ago, when top presidential advisers Ken Khachigian and Stu Spencer met at Tommy's Family Restaurant in San Clemente to jaw about politics, they came to this conclusion: It might be a kick to campaign with a vice presidential candidate.

"I said, 'You know, actually, Stu, it might be more fun if we traveled with the vice presidential candidate. More independence. You get to be on the attack all the time because that's the function you fulfill,' " Khachigian recalled while speaking the other day to the Republican Associates of Orange County.

But neither Spencer nor Khachigian-- who ended up traveling with Dan Quayle--figured that the campaign would be quite so bumpy.

"I used to be 6-foot-3 and have black hair," the several inches shorter and much more gray Khachigian joked of what he called the "Quayle trail."

Khachigian, a former speech writer for President Reagan and a close adviser to Gov. George Deukmejian, and Spencer, whose counsel has been sought by top Republicans from Nixon to Reagan, were Quayle's "handlers" during the tumultuous fall campaign.

Khachigian, 44, of San Clemente gave a wry account of the campaign that succeeded in spite of itself. He said he first met Quayle about a week after the Republican convention in New Orleans when Bush literally plucked the youthful Indiana senator out of a crowd on the river front and, in a stunning announcement, said he had selected Quayle for the other half of the GOP ticket.

"Basically all he did was show up," Khachigian said. "No one told him what to say or suggested to him how to comport himself. . . . So while I think it was a clever, creative idea that might have worked with somebody who had been experienced in national politics at that level, it was sort of uncomfortable situation."

Quayle's speech, instead of establishing him as a credible national candidate, was better suited to a county central committee meeting.

But things quickly got worse in the next few days as questions were raised about Quayle's military service record in the National Guard, his grade-point average in college and the method used to get him admitted to law school.

"He started out behind the eight-ball," Khachigian said. On the campaign trail, Quayle continued to fuel the controversy over his credentials by making mistakes.

"At one press conference, very early in campaign, seems to me in Montana, he was asked out of the blue what his feelings were about the Holocaust," Khachigian said. "It was the last question he expected. And he said, 'Well, that was a tragic period in American history.' Of course, everybody knows--they knew, we knew--that he meant world history. Then there was a follow-up question to that, and he said, 'As you know, I wasn't born in this century.' "It's one of these things, how can you take back words that you say?" Khachigian asked. "There are people for whom the words sort of come out faster than they intend."

As a national candidate, Quayle's offhand remarks stuck with him.

"It's repeated over and over again, and Newsweek puts it in that little quote compilation every week . . . and then the other side starts using it and pretty soon they've got this list of quotes," Khachigian said. "Well, we do it to the other side. And they did it to us."

There were other snafus, some of which Khachigian blamed on the campaign staff. On one occasion, Quayle was due to make a major speech on foreign policy and national security. A speech was written by Khachigian with input from Quayle. But Quayle wanted to, as Khachigian said, "wing it."

The trouble was the text of the speech already had been distributed to the national press corps. When Quayle started speaking off the cuff, reporters were thrown. They started frantically taking notes and rushed to phones to cancel earlier stories they had filed, awaiting what they supposed would be only minor changes.

"So they were outraged," Khachigian said. "That was really a sad mistake. And we really disserved the candidate that day."

As a result, Khachigian said, the speech, "which I thought was not a bad speech" was generally described as pretty awful.

But the Bush-Quayle ticket won, after all. Khachigian said there were even many good moments on the Quayle trail and a few laughs. "So we did have some fun," Khachigian said. But, he added, "We didn't make much national attention unless there was a problem."

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