Sen. Bob Dole offered a broad attack on President Clinton’s truthfulness and character Saturday, mocking him as a president who broke his word and stole ideas from Republicans. “Bill Clinton invites the American people to ask whether he can be trusted,” Dole said.
The presumed Republican presidential nominee, just back from his most concentrated round of campaigning since the early days of the primaries, ratcheted up his attacks on Clinton by invoking two issues that he has until now left to surrogates: The question of Clinton’s character and this week’s Whitewater verdicts involving Clinton’s business associates in Little Rock.
“I want to be president, because I want to return integrity to our government - a mission that’s more important this week than even a week ago,” said Dole, whose deliberate strategy has been to keep out of the Whitewater story, in the calculation that there was no need for partisan stoking of an issue that was already fully engaged.
And while Dole told a meeting of Republicans here that he was “not in this race to discuss Bill Clinton’s character,” he proceeded to do just that: “Every time Bill Clinton says one thing and does another, every time he talks like a conservative but governs like a liberal, he puts his character and credibility on the table.”
Dole’s remarks Saturday marked the kind of brawny speech that presidential candidates are supposed to provide at these kind of gatherings - the annual meeting of the state Republican leaders - and it was exactly the kind of audience that Dole prefers: Rousing, partisan and completely supportive.
They greeted him with nearly two minutes of cheers when he took the stage to the strains of the country music song, “Heartland,” by George Strait, waving “Dole” placards that had been handed them as they took their seats at tables set for lunch.
For his part, Dole responded with a crisp and energetic performance, reading from a prompter, drifting only occasionally, like when he stopped in the middle of what was supposed to be an attack on Judge Harold Baer Jr. of Federal District Court in Manhattan for a decision to suppress evidence in a drug case. When he came upon Baer’s name, Dole looked up: “Maybe Bill knows him, Bill Powers.” He was referring to William D. Powers, the state Republican chairman. Dole’s aides, who had worked with him on the speech through Saturday morning, shook their heads in a moment of frustration from the side of the room.
With his speech, Dole attempted to transform Clinton’s campaign performance into an issue in the race, as well as offer it as an indictment of Clinton’s character. He noted Clinton’s penchant in preemptively addressing subjects that Dole planned to deal with in his campaign speeches, and then said:
“We don’t give out advance copies of our speech because he’ll give them before I do.” The remark drew chuckles from the room, but it was not entirely unfounded: Dole’s campaign has taken to not releasing his schedule of appearances, or the subject of his speeches, until the last moment because they are concerned that Clinton will take steps to preempt them.
“Let’s run down the list of Republican ideas that Bill Clinton has plagiarized,” Dole said, and then embarked on a contemporary linguistic rift that reflected the rising influence of his younger campaign staff members.
“Upholding traditional values by opposing same-sex marriages? For it. A tax credit for parents who want to adopt? Been there. A balanced budget. Done that.”