WORLD

‘BAKE’ TAKES THE HELM

JAMES BAKER IS CHARTING A NEW COURSE FOR THE RE-ELECTION CAMPAIGN OF GEORGE BUSH

HILARY MACKENZIE September 7 1992
WORLD

‘BAKE’ TAKES THE HELM

JAMES BAKER IS CHARTING A NEW COURSE FOR THE RE-ELECTION CAMPAIGN OF GEORGE BUSH

HILARY MACKENZIE September 7 1992

‘BAKE’ TAKES THE HELM

WORLD

JAMES BAKER IS CHARTING A NEW COURSE FOR THE RE-ELECTION CAMPAIGN OF GEORGE BUSH

For former secretary of state James Baker, it was, in the phrase made famous by former New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra, déjà vu all over again. After moulding much of the Bush administration’s foreign policy for the past four years, Baker last week turned his attention from Russia’s reformers and Middle East peace and took up what could prove to be an even tougher challenge: designing an election campaign that will return his boss to the White House in November for a second term. Generally regarded as the master strategist who orchestrated George Bush’s resoundingly successful 1988 campaign during an economic boom, Baker this time inherits a tattered Republican party ideology that in recent weeks has appeared to be on life-support. The United States is mired in the worst recession in 50 years and the electorate, already fed up with high taxes, rising unemployment and escalating urban crime, is becoming increasingly angry with Bush over his inability to get the country moving again.

That dangerous political landscape will clearly tax Baker’s managerial skills. The 62year-old Texan is known for his ability to run an operation that is both disciplined and brutally forceful. A memorable example in the 1988 Republican campaign was the use of the Willie Horton case—the convicted murderer who had raped a woman and stabbed a man while on furlough from a Massachusetts prison. A Republican TV advertisement portrayed Democratic presidential rival Gov. Michael Dukakis as a liberal less than committed to law and order. But that kind of attack politics may not work in 1992, when Americans seem to want a larger vision from the contenders seeking thenvotes. The problem, said Michael Sandel, a political theorist at Harvard University, is that “both Bush and Baker have skills that are managerial and pragmatic.” He added: “Neither has offered a plan for solving the primary domestic challenges confronting the country— not for economic recovery, health care, education or urban policy—nor have they articulated what America should do in the world now that the Cold War is over.”

That shortcoming was evident at the Republican National Convention in Houston in mid-

August when the party leadership tried to enhance its popularity by focusing on family values as a major campaign issue. But after a brief surge in the opinion polls—inspired in large part by relentless television coverage— the Republican revival appeared to collapse last week. A series of post-convention polls showed Bush closing the gap of 15 to 25 points separating him from his Democratic rival, Arkansas Gov. William Clinton. But a New York

Times/CBS News Poll released last week once again showed Clinton with a commanding 15point lead—51 to 36 per cent.

Pollsters said that it was clear that a recession-weary electorate wanted the emphasis on prosperity. To that end, Baker, or “Bake”, as Bush calls him, last week sent the President out on the campaign trail to promote a multibillion-dollar job training program for Americans needing better work skills. The President also paid consoling visits to victims of Hurricane Andrew in Florida and Louisiana, where he pledged that “the federal government will do everything we can to help ease the suffering of the people” (page 18).

In an emotional farewell speech to state department colleagues on Aug. 13, Baker plainly laid out the direction the campaign would take. Praising the 68-year-old Bush for guiding the world through troublesome years, Baker said that the President would now turn his steady and experienced hand to solving America’s dire domestic problems. And he hinted at a strongly conservative agenda. Bush,

he said, would lower tax rates, cap spending on social programs, relax burdensome regulations and seek trade pacts like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Soon after moving from his seventh-floor state department office to chief-of-staff quarters in the White House, the tobacco-chewing Baker, a close personal friend of Bush for three decades who in private calls the President “Bushie,” was quick to put his mark on the flagging operation. In his trademark takecharge manner, Baker streamlined the White House and campaign staff and brought in trusted state department aides, including spokesman Margaret Tutwiler as communications director and Undersecretary of State Robert Zoellick as deputy chief of staff.

As well, he moved to fatten the party’s election finances by appointing campaign general chairman Robert Mosbacher to the Republican National Committee as chief fund raiser.

And to sharpen the party’s message, Baker took over Bush’s speech-writing and themegenerating apparatus. Said Republican pollster g Edward Goeas: “The important thing about a campaign is that it is a dictatorship, not a democracy. Now, we have someone to play the role of dictator.” As Republican political analyst Lyn Nofziger put it, Baker “is the 800-lb. gorilla everyone is afraid of.”

But even as the party rejoiced at Baker’s return, many of its members said that bringing order to a chaotic campaign would be easier than remoulding the President’s image. In ge 1988, Baker toughened Bush’s image and refocused his message against Dukakis. Now, they say, Baker must re-energize Bush to run against a stronger Democratic opponent. However, said John Sears, a Republican analyst and former Ronald Reagan campaign manager:

“You can’t make a milk horse into a thoroughbred. Baker can make his horse run in a straight line but he can’t make him run faster.”

Unhappily for the Republicans, pollsters say that voters are no longer impressed by the Bush administration’s widely touted foreign policy triumphs. Nor are Americans likely to support a renewed assault on Iraq, where U.S., British and French planes last week began enforcing a so-called no-fly zone in the southern part of the country to protect Iraqi Shiite Muslims from attack by Baghdad’s air force. Moreover, winning the Cold War cost Americans jobs and prosperity generated by the arms industry and a huge military machine. Now voters are looking for a government to put the American economy on a peacetime footing to compete head-on with the Germans and the Japanese.

For the Republicans, it seems, family values and rival-bashing are not the waves that will carry Bush back to the White House. James Baker is accustomed to being captain of the ship. But this time he has been given one with a a leaky hull—and he still faces more than two months at sea.

HILARY MACKENZIE

Hurricane Andrew's