In KJL’s Legacy Q&A, Lowry suggested “I always thought that the George H. W. Bush and Bob Dole campaigns against Clinton based on character were lame. And they largely were — they were a substitute for making arguments on the issues.”
He’s correct literally, that their character attacks were lame and petrified of media furor. But neither candidate did anything with Whitewater. Bush arrived late on Clinton’s character, sounding lame notes about Clinton’s youth protesting abroad that were denounced. The President’s business partners were convicted of multiple felonies in 1996 and Dole walked away from it. The FBI files? Couldn’t make a go of it. Smearing Billy Dale and the Travel Office staff? Nope. And Dole certainly wasn’t going anywhere near Paula Jones.
Issues? Neither man excited conservatives on the issues. They were both career insiders who were cool on social conservative issues, they were known as tax hikers, and didn’t use their campaigns as an opportunity to push fresh conservative reform ideas. Neither one could find his way out of a Vision bag. Scandal wasn’t a substitute for the issues. These campaigns tiptoed up with issues first, and as they flopped, they fell back late on inarticulate scandal-mongering. (Remember those Clinton-Gore “bozos”?)
The Big What If? is what if Lee Atwater had been healthy and making tough anti-Clinton spots in 1992? I think he would have found a way (and had the courage) to risk media outrage and throw an effective scandal punch or two or three at the Clintons.