“Devoid of any vision.” “Never met a tax he didn’t hike.” Ouch. Jack Kemp has made his new boss the target of nasty comments dozens of times over the last decade.
Kemp, a pro-football star-turned-congressman-turned-Cabinet secretary, even challenged Dole’s intellect a decade ago during a young Republicans’ conference in Chicago.
Kemp told the group that during a recent fire Dole’s library had been burned down and both books were lost. Dole, he said, had not even finished coloring one of them.
Dole didn’t exactly take the jibe sitting down. He retorted that Kemp, who sports a trademark silver pompadour, simply “wanted a business deduction for hair spray.” Both men apologized for the nastiness, but not before Dole got the last word.
“I think I make harder choices sometimes than he does,” Dole told a national audience. At the time, Dole was the Senate majority leader; Kemp a congressman from New York.
It was a classic confrontation between a hard-edged New Yorker who fervently preached the supply-side economic gospel of tax cuts and a pragmatic deal-maker from Kansas who acquiesced to tax increases in pursuit of deficit reduction.
But on Saturday, as running mates on the 1996 Republican presidential ticket, Dole and Kemp were full of praise for each other. Kemp declared he loved Dole’s “vision” - the one he once panned, saying it “will carry us into the next century and into unimagined prosperity in our children’s future.”
And Dole hailed his new team of “Jack and me.” He described Kemp as “someone who believes in the same values I believe in, someone who is ready to fight the battles I will fight, someone who has courage, integrity and character.”
Responding to the formal announcement of the GOP ticket, Democrats took aim at the former feud.
“Bob Dole has now completed his transformation from deficit hawk to economic gambler willing to bet our economic future on a reckless supplyside theory,” said Clinton’s campaign spokesman, Joe Lockhart.
In many ways, the old Dole-Kemp feud has been small theater for the larger, often muddled debate within the GOP over which way its economic policy should turn in the aftermath of Reaganomics.
The political marriage of two election rivals isn’t unprecedented on a presidential ticket. Despite a bitter and personal campaign right up to the 1960 convention, John F. Kennedy put rival Lyndon B. Johnson on his ticket and won.
Though far less personal in their attacks on each other, Ronald Reagan and George Bush formed a winning ticket two decades later - even after Bush dubbed Reagan the author of “voodoo economics.”
Angling to keep Kemp in his camp this time around after their bare-knuckles clash during the 1988 GOP presidential primaries, Dole made an overture last year and asked Kemp to head a commission that studied revamping the tax system.
Kemp obliged, but still managed a few guerilla attacks - albeit slightly more polite.
“I love Bob Dole. I just hope our party doesn’t come across sometimes as a bunch of grumpy old men,” Kemp said just two months ago.
Earlier in the year, Kemp declared that Dole was “making a mistake” by not seizing onto a flat-tax plan. To make his point, Kemp endorsed the faltering campaign of publisher Steve Forbes, a flat-tax advocate who unsuccessfully challenged Dole in the GOP primaries.
And last year, Kemp told reporters at a private breakfast that Dole’s plan to lift the Bosnian arms embargo was “hopeless” and his position on affirmative action potentially “divisive.”
Kemp made no apologies - even when Newt Gingrich scolded him. “I want these issues to go forward,” he would say.
For all their disagreements, Dole and Kemp will have one certain uniting feature to their ticket: Dole’s massive tax-cut package will be an easy sell for supply-sider Kemp.
It will be an ironic turnabout for Kemp, who eight years ago bloodied Dole almost daily when both men failed to unseat George Bush for the presidential nomination. In those days, Kemp declared:
“When he (Dole) talks about the future it’s time to grab your wallets.”
“I am convinced that Senator Dole has a secret plan to raise taxes on the American people.”
“Bob says he offers real leadership. He’s right - backward, not forward.”