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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Republicans Recapture Image-Making Magic

SAN DIEGO, California -- It may not be enough, but Republicans have done all they could do this week to make the 1996 election competitive. To a greater extent than almost anyone could have predicted a few days ago, they have managed to break out of the stale formula of past political conventions and to shatter the public image of a party of narrow views and out-of-touch leadership.


But the national convention that climaxed Thursday night with strong acceptance speeches by presidential nominee Bob Dole and his running mate, Jack Kemp, ultimately will be a success only if a skeptical electorate accepts the Republicans' word on several questionable propositions.


Whether Dole will fall victim to the counterattack Democrats will launch at their convention in 10 days depends on his ability to resolve the glaring paradoxes that were raised in these last few days:


?Is this the party of inclusiveness portrayed by such spotlighted convention speakers as retired Gen. Colin Powell and Susan Molinari, or the party whose conservative Christian wing insisted that the word "tolerance" be removed from its hard-edged anti-abortion platform stance?


?Is this a campaign that gained altitude with Kemp's long-held insistence that "the party of Lincoln" must repudiate any appeals to "racial or ethnic division," or the one that forced Kemp inside of 48 hours to conform to its stands ending affirmative action and cutting off education and assistance to children of illegal aliens?


?And most important, is the economic program on which Dole and Kemp are running one that can plausibly balance the budget in six years while providing more than half-a-trillion dollars in tax cuts, or is it a smoke-and-mirrors scheme that will be seen as a cynical election ploy?


Dole sought to answer those questions in his speech, by promising an openhearted but tough-minded government that would put economic growth "at the heart of national policy."


Like Bill Clinton in 1992, Dole is promising to make his tax-and-budget package his top priority. House Speaker Newt Gingrich is telling reporters that a Republican Congress will enact it by next August and reverse the tax increases Clinton pushed through in his first year in office.


Democrats have instantly targeted the economic plan as the Achilles' heel in the Dole campaign. The Democrats say that they can use the same tactics to demolish Dole that they and their labor union allies did in clobbering Gingrich and the congressional Republicans during last winter's budget debate.


Until now, polls have shown that lower taxes rank well down the scale of important goals for most voters, significantly below a balanced budget.


Carol Cox Waite, head of the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, said both rely on "black-box projections," adding, "No matter who wins the election, they will not deliver on their campaign promises. ... They can't, because the numbers simply do not add up."


However that economic debate comes out, what is clear for now is that as an exercise in political image-making, this convention showed Republicans have regained the mastery they seemingly had lost four years ago in Houston's Astrodome.


Gingrich said Thursday that with Kemp on the ticket, and with the promise of tax cuts and school vouchers, "we can go into any neighborhood in America, knock on any door and say, 'You will have a better future and more opportunity with us.'


"What do the Democrats have to offer?" he asked. The next two weeks will tell.