Posted by Curt on 21 October, 2016 at 11:23 am. Be the first to comment!


John Fund:

The last time an inarticulate, septuagenarian Republican candidate fared poorly in debates while running against a member of the Clinton family was 1996. That year Bob Dole lost to Bill Clinton. Dole is not Donald Trump, but Republicans reacted to Dole’s likely loss in October with a cold, unemotional strategy. It was best articulated by Haley Barbour, the chairman of the Republican National Committee: “If Clinton is elected, heaven forbid, the last thing the American people want is for him to have a blank check in the form of a liberal Democrat Congress.”

Republicans didn’t abandon Dole, but they pivoted away from promoting him to trying instead to preserve their majorities in Congress. They urged voters to split their tickets and leave in place a watchdog on a slippery, unseemly Clinton White House. It worked. Dole lost by eight points, but GOP Senate candidates ran ahead of him in every contested state but Dole’s native Kansas. Republicans kept control of Congress.

The 1996 Republican decision to tell vulnerable Republicans they were free to disconnect their campaigns from the top of the ticket was made just after the final debate that year, on October 16. It was prompted by internal polls that suggested that as much as 10 percent of the electorate might abandon its Democratic Senate or House candidate when confronted with the risk of giving the Democrats undivided control in Washington.

But the strategy was rolled out quietly and slowly, to avoid panic and alienating strong Dole supporters. Eddie Mahe, a GOP consultant at the time, recalls that “base voters weren’t told directly it didn’t look good for president, but there were lots of subliminal messages for independent voters.” Mahe believes that the tactics helped some GOP candidates pick up between two and four points, in many cases saving their races.

Another piece of the 1996 GOP strategy was a flyer issued by the Republican National Committee in those days before e-mail became ubiquitous. It warned about the threat to the nation if Democrats took over Congress. “’What would a Democrat Congress look like?” it asked, and answered, “Look left.” There the flyer featured pictures of Democratic leaders and potential committee chairmen, including the late Senator Ted Kennedy and Representative Charles Rangel of New York. Today, a similar “roster of radicals” would feature Representative Nancy Pelosi of California and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

But Republicans didn’t just go on defense. The 1996 election featured a growing scandal engulfing the Clinton campaign. Starting in early October, Bill Clinton began trying to run out the clock on a growing campaign-finance scandal. It involved a former Commerce Department official, John Huang, who after leaving government became a top fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee, scooping up suspect foreign cash for Team Clinton. Throughout October 1996, Huang dodged subpoenas and reporters. The dimensions of the scandal became clear only after the election, when reporters uncovered ties between Huang associates and the Communist regime in Beijing.

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