Bring The Republicans In
They may all be white men, says Clinton's ex-strategist, but it's worth it
By Dick Morris
(TIME, NOVEMBER 6, 1996) -- Now that Bill Clinton has achieved the greatest political turnaround in American history, in which direction will he go in his second term--to the left or up the middle? He understands, as he always has, that the center is the place to be. The question is, Can he stand there? Can he keep his balance?
His chief obstacle is that the Democrats, no matter their number, will try to force Clinton to accept government by caucus: their leaders will loyally support the President's program and will twist arms on their side of the aisle to get enough votes to pass it. Just as in 1993-94.
But it won't work. President Clinton needs to remember the math. To pass a law in the Senate, a simple majority is no longer enough. The pervasive use of the filibuster by both parties makes 60 votes the goal for legislative success. Clinton does not have 60 votes in the Senate. In the House too he needs help from Republicans to pass his bills.
If he governs by caucus, seeking Democratic votes to the exclusion of Republicans, Clinton will be forced repeatedly to sell his soul to the left in Congress. So the only way for Clinton to govern effectively, and to govern in the center, is to form a bipartisan government. He needs to reach out immediately to the Republicans and bring them to the White House. The President, a peacemaker abroad, must be one at home.
If he reaches out to the G.O.P., it will reach back. He no longer has to deal with a presidential rival in the Senate; Republican leader Trent Lott is a colleague, not a rival. For their part, House leaders Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey have learned a few lessons. The former freshmen House Republicans are a scared sophomore class.
So how to court the G.O.P.? It won't be done by the Democrats in Congress, who will be in a mood to take no prisoners. They will seek revenge for their exclusion from the legislative process under Gingrich. The resulting bitterness will make Bosnia seem truly peaceful and reconciled by contrast.
President Clinton, on the other hand, should start as a conciliator by naming a few Republicans to his Cabinet. He might consider replacing William Perry at Defense with Warren Rudman, and John Deutch at the CIA with Bill Cohen, the retiring Maine Senator. If Richard Riley leaves Education, though I hope he doesn't, then Tom Kean, a former Governor of New Jersey, might be a good choice.
The problem is that Republicans tend to be white men, and Clinton's informal quota system makes positions for white males scarce. If the President needs to depart from his racial and gender formula to accommodate some Republicans in his government, he should feel free to do so. The gain is worth it.
Next the President should convene a bipartisan negotiation for a budget deal. The Republicans will welcome the chance to "get well" after suffering for their stance on Medicare. That will make them sufficiently tractable to agree on a framework most moderate Democrats can support.
Finally, the President needs to pass a "fix-it" welfare bill to repeal the anti-legal-immigrant provisions of the act he signed and to provide vouchers for children whose mothers have been cut off. He should include his job-creation measures so welfare reform will truly begin to work. By fixing the bill yet leaving most of it intact, he sends a message that he is governing up the middle.
Above all, the President must turn aside the seductive wiles of congressional Democrats anxious to court him and reach out to craft a truly national government. Remember Winston Churchill's admonition: "In War: Resolution. In Defeat: Defiance. In Victory: Magnanimity."
Morris, who resigned last August after a sex scandal, is working on a book to be published soon by Random House.
Copyright © 1996 AllPolitics All Rights Reserved