You are the Candidate: Could Dole in '96 have realistically won?

Back in the day I remember Dole being a sort of ‘phone it in’ choice that unimaginative GOP voters gave the nomination to, since he ‘earned’ it by waiting his turn. He got wholloped by the big B.C. + Hilldawg and went home packing. It didn’t seem like he had much chance to begin with. The (citeless) articles I’ve read seem to look back and view this election as an almost foregone conclusion.

Could Dole have realistically won in '96? What could he have done? Was it is simply hopeless against a popular incumbent? Did Perot hurt the GOP more? If Perot still ran, was there any serious chance of Dole’s victory?

So you are Dole’s campaign manager, and facing Pat Buchanan in the primaries, and Perot stealing your votes in the general, is there anything you can do to turn this around and sent Bill & Hill back to Hot Springs four years earlier?

Nothing, really. He had nothing substantive to campaign against. The economy was jake, the budget was balanced, business was booming, there weren’t any wars, people had jobs, Bubba was popular. Dole had nothing personally wrong with him, but voters just really had no reason to switch horses.

At the very least, I’d have picked a more appropriate campaign song.

Mathematically speaking, the election goes to the incumbent if the economy is good, and to the opponent if the economy is bad. Charisma factors in somewhat, but at most only by 5%. For 1996, even if Clinton and Dole had had the same amount of charisma, Clinton still would have won at ~51% of the vote.

I don’t know of anything Dole himself could have done, but if external events had gone differently - if Lewinskygate had broken sooner (the affair began during the budget stalemate of November '95), if the various fundraising controversies of the Clinton/Gore '96 campaign had been more widely known sooner, or if there’d been a severe economic downturn - Dole maybe could’ve won. But I doubt it - the tide was running very strongly in the incumbent’s favor in late '96.

This doesn’t make a whole lot of sense - you are saying that if Dole had had as much charisma as Clinton, Clinton would have done better than he did. Clinton got less than half the popular vote both times that he ran for President.

That having been said, no, Dole could not have won. The economy was doing too well, and Clinton was too good a politician. Clinton, aided by the MSM, was able to take credit for many of the achievements of the Republican Congress (welfare reform, balancing the budget).


Welfare reform passed with Clinton’s signature, not veto, and he annoyed a lot of liberals by signing it. And his first budget, which built upon GHWB’s previous budgets, passed with few if any Republican votes, IIRC - VP Gore had to break a tie in the Senate. Clinton’s subsequent budgets passed with pretty broad support, again IIRC. By 1998-2000 the budgetary picture was looking very good indeed.

Having been perceived as too liberal in his first two years and having lost control of Congress in 1994, Clinton - advised by Dick Morris - did his famous “triangulation” and ran much more successfuly as a can-do moderate in 1996. Dole, who was none too exciting as a candidate anyway and who certainly wasn’t helped by his fall off a stage during a campaign rally, couldn’t lay a glove on him. With Perot again in the race, Clinton couldn’t crack the 50% ceiling, but he came very close.

They were both three-way races, so this is kind of a specious point. Clinton won two electoral landslides.

None whatever, only baleful predictions of the financial disaster it was going to cause the country. But that hasn’t kept their cheerleaders for claiming credit anyway, as we see here.

Dole had no chance, but neither did any other Republican. If Clinton had been beatable, somebody else would have been nominated. Dole’s nomination was partly a gesture to honor a senior party statesman, and partly a surrender to the inevitable.

He vetoed it twice. Dick Morris told him a third veto would cost him the 1996 election, and he signed. Cite.

Just so no one gets the mistaken impression that Clinton was showing anything like courage or a commitment to principle in signing a bill he had vetoed twice - Clinton possessed neither courage nor principle.


Except when he was going against the polls, or against his own base when he was doing what he thought was right. One good example of this was when he stood up to Gingrich during the budget shutdown. Initially Clinton’s poll ratings were dropping precipitously. Clinton said he didn’t care, that he wasn’t going to sign that garbage no matter what happened to his approval ratings, and that if Americans didn’t like it, they’d have to elect a different President… That showed both principle and courage, my friend. Anyone who thinks Bubba didn’t have a sack wasn’t paying attention.

I mostly agree - but the times that Clinton didn’t use his sack were doozies. Rwanda, for example.

Do you have a valid cite for this? And by “valid”, I don’t mean a book written by a known liar. I mean a real cite.

Failing that, could you point to where Clinton’s poll ratings took a precipitous drop?

Cite. If this is this more of your “poll ratings under 50% are over 50%” nonsense, then never mind.


From your cite:

The bill he vetoed on December 6th, 1995 was the Balanced Budget Act of 1995.

On January 9, 1996, it was the Work Opportunity Act of 1995

The bill he signed was the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996
I don’t have the time nor the inclination to read the entire text of all 3 bills, but it strikes me as a bit disingenuous to claim that “Clinton…vetoed welfare reform twice” when at least the first bill referred to is clearly targeting more than welfare reform.

The actual text of the second and third bills I linked to might illuminate the situation more than a link to the Republican Policy Committee website.

A cite for what?

And I have no idea what book you’re referring to, but I don’t read book or rely on sources from partisan political hacks or liars. I’m not a Republican. My source is a specific personal memory of Clinton giving a speech saying that if Americans disagreed with his stand then they were “entitled to another President.”

Come to think of it, I do recall one written source for Clinton privately telling his political advisor that he didn’t are what happened to his approval ratings. That political advisor was Dick Morris (who HATES the Clintons), and he told the story himself in his book about working for Clinton. Is a hostile, right wing, anti-Clinton source acceptable?

Re: welfare reform vetoes… I was trying to find that myself - thanks, Algorithm.

No it isn’t. Although if it helps, I will stipulate that Clinton also did what he could to prevent Republicans from balancing the budget.

The Brookings Institute knows he vetoed welfare reform twice, the Boston Globe knows he did it, the encyclopedia knows he did it, MIT knows he did it, Time magazine knows he did it, Slate knows it. Everybody knows it. Except not the SDMB.

Cripes, the knots you people tie yourselves into to deny the truth.


He vetoed bad bills until he got a good bill. He also balanced the budget.

Thanks, Shodan. I note that the Time magazine article does say, “…Congress had stripped out of [the third]… welfare bill many of the harsh provisions that had provoked the President to veto two earlier versions…”

Given that my cite has Clinton getting 55% of the vote in 1996 and I know that he did indeed become president, I’m suspecting that you are either simply wrong, that my cite is dealing with the electoral vote, or that it ignores third party votes.