Two top Republican officials on Wednesday stepped up GOP attacks on Ross Perot, calling the prospective presidential candidate a "walking contradiction" on key issues and a person who operates "above or outside the rules or the law."
The assaults, which began last week with such labels as "monster," "sinister" and "dangerous and destructive," erupted after opinion polls showed the independent Perot leading President Bush and Democrat Bill Clinton nationwide as well as in several big states, including California and Texas. Perot has laughed off the barbs, calling them "silliness."
The first attacks came from White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater and House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.). The latest emerged from Republican Party Chairman Richard N. Bond and the head of Bush's reelection campaign, Robert M. Teeter.
Teeter, meeting with reporters, assailed Perot's plans to make unlimited use of his wealth while Bush and Clinton, the presumed Democratic presidential nominee, will accept about $55 million in federal funds to finance their campaigns. Perot, a billionaire, has vowed to spend whatever it takes, and has cited $100 million as a possible cost. (The two major-party candidates have access to millions of dollars in so-called "soft money"--contributions to the parties or private groups that can be spent on the candidates' behalf.)
Teeter also took a swipe at Perot's private efforts to find missing American servicemen in Vietnam and to rescue American hostages in Iran--as well as an alleged attempt to blackmail a Ft. Worth newspaper publisher, an allegation Perot has denied.
"That stuff I think people are not interested to see in the Oval Office," Teeter said.
"One of the questions about Perot," he continued, "is how the public takes to a guy who is going to go outside and play by a different set of rules, whether it's money or the rules of law.
"Perot is a guy who's been noted in his public career for doing a lot of things outside the rules. And I'm not sure the public likes the idea--they haven't up to now in my lifetime--of presidents going outside the rules."
"It's greatly popular to go out and say, 'Look, here's a guy who gets things done.' But I think the electorate, by the time you get to September and October, starts focusing on the fact we're going to put somebody in the White House.
"And I don't think they're going to want to see as President of the United States a guy who thinks he's above or outside the rules or the law."
In Las Vegas, Bond told a group of Republicans that Perot is "the $64-billion question" in the presidential race, according to the Associated Press.
"Perot says he is for abortion but always shifts the question to adoption," Bond said. "He says he is for gun control, but endorses the National Rifle Assn. He says he is against government spending, but grew fat on government contracts."
Bond said that although Perot is a "walking contradiction" on the issues, he is doing well in the polls because people believe he would bring a new kind of leadership.
"Anybody who talks about leadership will be listened to," Bond said. "There is no doubt that there is a disaffected electorate out there which needs to be brought back to George Bush."
Teeter met with a group of California reporters to highlight Bush's scheduled trip to Los Angeles and Fresno on Friday and Saturday. He said that California and its block of 54 electoral votes is the top priority of the Bush reelection campaign and that Bush will visit the state frequently, as often as once a week in October as the Nov. 3 election approaches.
"If we carry California, we'll win the election," Teeter said. "If we don't, we can still win the election, but I don't believe that is true with the Democrats" if they fail to take the Golden State.
The President's campaign will focus on rebuilding Bush's severely eroded core of Republican support, Teeter said.
"Now if Perot announces he is running and has a comparable level of support in September and spends as much as he is talking about, then that does change our plans and we will focus on him as an opponent," Teeter said.