The rumors are flying that before the Republicans meet in Houston next month, Vice President Dan Quayle will be sacrificed to save President George Bush from embarrassing de feat next November. If Bush's plight were so easy to fix, I would even favor it.
But just as Murphy Brown is not responsible for the deterioration of American family values, Quayle cannot be blamed for Bush's problems. Indeed, in the afterglow of "Operation Desert Storm," Bush was setting records for presidential popularity with the same Quayle at his side. Nor will it help to fire Treasury Secretary Nicholas F. Brady or Budget Director Richard G. Darman, nor will the arrival of Secretary of State James A. Baker III in the White House do much good. The problem is with Bush--and unless or until he acts differently, the Republican ticket will be doomed.
The President now has a reputation for overreacting to all situations. I suppose he could be convinced that dumping Quayle would be a good thing. But he also is often accused of political expediency, of lacking deeply held beliefs, so I think it likely that, were he to dump Quayle, a man who has served him loyally--albeit somewhat imperfectly--he would find himself no better off for the exercise.
Don't get me wrong. I am not a closet Quayle supporter. I was as confused as most Republicans when Quayle was selected four years ago. But what is at issue here is the President's backbone and his leadership. And if he demonstrates that he will let the crowd dictate his moves, he will discourage even those who still support him.
If you dump Quayle, the biggest problem will be to replace him. I see names being bandied around like Defense Secretary Dick Cheney and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Jack Kemp--both of whom I like; also Colin L. Powell and Elizabeth Dole, whose choice, under these circumstances, I think would be viewed as crassly political. Some even mention Baker for this office. But Bush had all these choices available in 1988, and he chose Quayle. The only difference is that he is 30 points down in the polls instead of 18, as he was after the Democratic convention in 1988.
I don't think Bill Clinton is unbeatable, and I don't think his selection of Sen. Al Gore will be a wise one in the end. Ross Perot having departed, I guess Bush can even count on getting my vote--which looked unlikely two weeks ago.
But if Bush is going to win, he and those around him have to stop panicking and come up with something credible to tell the American people at our convention next month. The people want to know what Bush has learned in his first four years as President that will make him a better President in the next four years. If he can answer this question to their satisfaction, he can still win. Dumping the man who served you as vice president because it seems like the politically expedient thing to do wouldn't seem to indicate that you had learned much.
If Quayle is dumped, he will be the first sitting vice president to be removed by his President since Franklin D. Roosevelt substituted Harry S. Truman for Henry A. Wallace in 1944. Certainly, some Presidents wish to (Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard M. Nixon being two), but all found it too difficult or confusing or unhelpful. I hope Bush finds it this way, too.
You have to feel sorry for vice presidents. All are ridiculed, all look obsequious in their devotion to their President, all watch their Presidents make mistakes which the vice president must then justify, all seem ill at ease in the office. While the office has grown in importance in the last 50 years, the occupant who once described the duties as consisting entirely of inquiring into the health of the President daily still isn't far from wrong.
I often wonder why anyone wants to be vice president, and some days I wonder why Quayle, in particular, wants to be vice president. If I were he, I would have long ago told Bush to count me out for 1992, given the kind of abuse he has taken. But I would not advise him to do so now; no one would believe he hadn't been pushed.
It's time to circle the wagons. The fat is in the fire. The time for firing personnel has passed. Bush and Quayle are bound inexorably together as they prepare for the fight of their lives.