ED ROLLINS, the former Reagan aide who was Ross Perot's top campaign strategist a year ago, foresees Mr. Perot running for president again in 1996.
"I think he'll get sucked into it," said Mr. Rollins at a Monitor breakfast June 15. Rollins does not believe that Mr. Perot is planning that far ahead, but the Texas billionaire is out campaigning hard. By 1996 he will be unable to back out of a race again, says Rollins.
"I don't think he's a strategic man," he says. But "I think he's having the time of his life."
After winning 19 percent of the vote in 1992, Perot is also getting kid-glove treatment from both Republicans and Democrats as well as the press. Once he became a candidate, he would receive much tougher scrutiny from all corners, as he did last summer.
Perot would fare better if he ran outside the GOP, rather than pursuing its nomination, says Rollins. "If he runs in a two-way race, he'll never be elected president. If he's in a three-way race, anything can happen."
The Republican field in 1996 is teeming with ambitious hopefuls. As recently as January the hottest prospect was Jack Kemp, says Rollins. By now Kemp has dropped well back, his message gone stale and his strategy of waiting until after 1994 turned obsolete, he adds.
Senate minority leader Bob Dole is now at the top of Rollins's list.
Some other candidates aiming for the GOP ticket in 1996 are Texas Sen. Phil Gramm, former defense secretary Dick Cheney, and former education secretary Lamar Alexander.
Former Vice President Dan Quayle, Rollins says, needs to strengthen his image before running.