The Blog


12:00 AM, Aug 5, 1996 • By FRED BARNES
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

DONALD RUMSFELD has tried this before: turning a career legislator from Capitol Hill into a national politician and chief executive. In 1974, it was Gerald Ford, the accidental president fresh from years as House Republican leader. Ford thought tactically, not strategically. He was chronically reactive, rarely proactive. He waited for a consensus before stepping front and center on policy issues. Yet with the help of Rumsfeld, his White House chief of staff, Ford gradually changed, though not enough to gain election in 1976. Now Rumsfeld's task is to transform Bob Dole from legislator to executive -- and do it in roughly four months.

Not an easy job. And Rumsfeld, 64, known to his friends as Rummy, doesn't even work full-time at Dole headquarters. When he arrived in June, he planned to spend two days a week; now he's up to four or more. He's already had an impact on the Dole campaign. At his instigation, there's now an organized and disciplined policy process that runs on real, not geological, time. Rumsfeld hired Jerry Jones, a veteran of the Nixon and Ford White Houses, to drive the policy operation. "And he's brougnt a lot more heavy thinkers into the process," says former representative Vin Weber, who is Rumsfeld's co-policy adviser.

Together, Rumsfeld and Weber got Bill Bennett, the former education secretary and drug czar, involved. After his first conversation with Rumsfeld, "I was buoyed," says Bennett. Rumsfeld recruited Paul Wolfowitz, the defense intellectual and deputy defense secretary in the Bush administration, to oversee Dole's foreign policy. He signed up Steve Forbes and George Shultz as advisers and increased the role of Jeane Kirkpatrick. Rumsfeld also put together a core group -- economists John Taylor, Gary Becker, and Judy Shelton, along with Forbes, Weber, and himself -- to develop Dole's economic package and tax cut.

True, these are process and personnel changes, not alterations in Dole's personality and campaign style. Rumsfeld can't produce a complete Dole makeover. But the changes matter; now Dole has something interesting to say. Take Bennett's role in the campaign. Bennett not only didn't endorse Dole during the primaries, he publicly criticized the candidate. So Dole partisans, except campaign manager Scott Reed and aide Kevin Stach, were cool toward Bennett. Yet Rumsfeld and Weber summoned Bennett for a meeting in June and enlisted him to barnstorm with Dole on education issues in mid-July.

On that swing, Bennett urged Dole to give a new speech on Hollywood, a follow-up to his attentiongrabbing attack in May 1995 on the overdose of sex and violence in films and on TV. Dole liked Bennett's idea: Praise Hollywood for beginning to clean up its act, but insist on further improvement. With Rumsfeld pushing the process, a text was drafted and date set (July 30) for the speech, which is bound to attract the media. PreRumsfeld, this wouldn't have happened.

What's crucial about Rumsfeld's role is that Dole trusts him (and few others). "Once Rumsfeld's involved in the process, it gives Dole a comfort level that whatever is being put before him has been vetted," says a Dole aide. "He's the guy who Dole respects." As a result, Rumsfeld has been able to jumpstart the whole policy operation. Since he came on board, Dole has given two major education addresses and two foreign policy speeches, and the economic plan is to be unveiled just before or after the GOP convention in mid-August. Rumsfeld was particularly influential in the substance of the second foreign policy speech, delivered in Philadelphia on June 24, which advocated the expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe.

Rumsfeld's emergence as Dole's chief policy adviser is the result of a chance meeting. Last spring, Rumsfeld and his wife Joyce attended a speech in Chicago by Elizabeth Dole. Afterwards, they chatted. "We need help," she told Rumsfeld, and he said he'd be willing to offer some. Several days later, Reed called and asked Rumsfeld to meet with Dole in Washington. They talked and Rumsfeld agreed to join the campaign. The two have been friends since 1962, when Rumsfeld was elected to the House from the North Shore of Chicago (at age 29) and was assigned an office next door to then-Rep. Dole's.