Democratic Leaders Meet To Plot Strategy for '92 White House Bid

Party chairman Ron Brown says that despite the President's high ratings, the GOP is vulnerable on domestic issues like education, technology, and foreign trade

ENOUGH of war. Ron Brown wants to change the subject. The national Democratic chairman says George Bush may be the hero of the Persian Gulf, but he is losing even more important battles at home against joblessness and foreign competition.

The chairman and 400 other Democratic leaders gather in Washington today and tomorrow to plot strategy in one of their last national meetings before the difficult 1992 campaign begins.

Mr. Brown, in a Monitor interview, said the president's weakness on domestic policy could hobble the Republicans and put a Democrat into the White House next year.

The president ``has no domestic agenda whatsoever,'' Brown says. ``We have two secretaries of defense and two secretaries of state, and nobody providing leadership from the White House on important domestic issues.''

But even leading Democrats, such as House Speaker Thomas Foley, admit that the party, which lost five of the last six presidential elections, faces an uphill struggle in 1992 against Bush. Here in Washington, insiders joke that Democrats should replace their symbol, the donkey, with a sacrificial lamb for the coming campaign.

Bush's popularity is over 80 percent. Right after the war, it soared to 91 percent, the highest ever recorded by any president. But Brown insists it won't last.

``I don't believe the numbers are going to be anything like this a year from now,'' Brown says. ``The same polls that show him at 90 percent [popularity] show a reelect number of 53 percent.... I think there's a lot of softness.''

The softness is all on the domestic front.

Democrats observe that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein may be on the run; but unemployment at home is on the rise. American military technology won in Iraq; but American civilian technology is losing to the Japanese. America's armed forces have plenty of smart missiles; but America's schools are failing to get the best out of their smartest pupils.

``I continue to believe that the basic issues in the '92 campaign are going to be bread-and-butter domestic issues, economic issues,'' the chairman says.

``The real test of George Bush is whether he uses this immense popularity in a positive way,'' Brown says. Instead, Bush seems determined to conduct a ``Rose Garden strategy'' which ignores major domestic issues.

Brown says the effort to oust Bush from the White House will soon begin. At least one leading Democrat will launch his presidential campaign against Bush in April, and three or four other Democrats will declare in early summer, he predicts.

The chairman says Republican efforts to politicize the Persian Gulf war will backfire. GOP leaders, such as Rep. Newt Gingrich of Georgia and Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas, are trying to paint Democrats as weak on defense because they opposed the Gulf war.

``I think Gingrich and Gramm and [Sen. Alan] Simpson [of Wyoming] have grossly overplayed their hand,'' Brown says. ``I don't think the American people are in a mood to have our victory in the Persian Gulf politicicized.''

Brown says some Republicans may be having doubts about the war as political issue.

``I'm not sure they're going to use it [in 1992],'' he says. ``I hear there's a Roger Ailes [Republican media consultant] memo circulating around, telling them that he thinks they're making a bad mistake, too, in politicizing it.''

Excerpts from the interview:

Do you expect Dan Quayle to be on the ticket with Bush in '92?

He will be on the ticket, [and] I'm not sad about it.... George Bush has a very hard time admitting when he's wrong.

What's the most important problem facing America?

It's lack of competitiveness, and the loss of our industrial base, all things relating to the economy.

How important will that be in '92?

People feel very economically insecure. They feel very threatened. And I think when people feel insecure and threatened, they can turn to the Democratic Party.

Is foreign trade and Japan part of that concern?

People are very worried about foreign competition.... To call it economic nationalism is too narrow, too much of an oversimplification. But ... trade doesn't work when it's one-way. We've been at the wrong end of that one-way for a long time.

The White House wants to bring Mexico into a free trade zone with the US. Will that be an important issue?

I think that's a good issue for us. [One thing at stake] is the potential for exporting jobs. You're talking about ... lower wages for American workers and near slave wages for foreign workers, and no environmental protection.

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