Behind the Oval Office

President Clinton contacted Dick Morris, an associate of seventeen years, one month before the 1994 gubernatorial elections with one goal in mind, to win the 1996 presidential election. His intentions were to get Morris’s help to win back the presidency and redefine his image as the Commander in Chief. With the notion of the permanent campaign, Clinton was able to gain back public appeal and win the 1996 election with ease.

Recent history has shown that presidents can not only be brought down by their failures but by their successes as well. Although they may accomplish what they say they are going to, failures to initiate new programs and innovate cause voters to lose interest. This was where Dick Morris and the permanent campaign stepped in. Clinton employed Morris to figure out which way the public was going on issues and what they really wanted out of their president. What the majority of people wanted was change. The public wanted a president who acted like a president. The use of extensive polling helped Morris and Clinton determine the popular stances on issues, which arguments were more persuasive, and why certain voters liked or disliked the President. Clinton needed to get a clear idea of how he had gone wrong in the eyes of his public in order to get back on track with them. Polling was not used to tell the President what to do, but was a good gauge as to what the public felt was important for him to do and where they stood as a society.

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Clinton’s easy win in 1996 was a result of his new definition of the job and the new substance that was added to his campaign. It was not the result of “spinning.” Spinning refers to when consultants or “spin doctors” change the way in which their candidates and their positions on issues are presented. Substance is not created. Their views are merely twisted to change the public’s perception of them. What Dick Morris did with Bill Clinton was not spinning. Morris used already set positions that had not been publicized and put them out in the open. He used the Presidents basic themes and found new issues that would accentuate his views on them. He never intended to change the President’s mind or “flip flop” on anything but instead brought to attention the Presidents already taken positions that would be popular among voters. This added new substance to Clinton’s campaign.

At first, instead of following through with the things that won him the election in 1992, Clinton sought to please his Congressional Democrats and gain party support. Morris felt that if they continued to worry about pleasing congressional Democrats, they would get nowhere. Clinton did not wish completely abandon his Democratic Party. He only wished to change it.

Another factor leading to President Clinton’s success was Triangulation. The President succeeded in creating a third person that accommodated the needs of both parties yet was unique to him. He attempted to pull both sides more towards the center discovering a common ground in which both parties’ views could be molded into one moderate consensus. One major example of Triangulation was Clinton’s tax-cut. Morris explained that the Republicans wanted tax cuts for the rich, and the Democrats did not want tax cuts of any kind. To create a third argument Clinton proposed a broad-based tax cut based on functional differences instead of economic class. This was greatly approved by the public who was becoming much more concerned with society as a whole rather than the individual. Another example was Clinton’s “Pile of Vetoes Speech,” where he reached out to congressional Republicans to move more towards the middle. Dick Morris urged the President to take moderate positions overall but to take strong and opposing positions on the worst of the right wing issues like abortion, gun control, and militia. The public was tired of Republican extremism, and wanted to move forward.

Dick Morris said, “In politics, power and information are everything.” There was a great lack of communication between the two parties. This ended when Clinton, Morris, and Republican Trent Lott formed an alliance that would prove vital in the years to come. Lott was a conservative but not extreme right wing. Clinton trusted him. He was a man that honestly believed in doing what was best for the country. This bi-partisan backchannel allowed them to coordinate their views to work for both parties. Lott could help Clinton with Republican votes. In turn, Clinton could let Lott know where he and the Democrats stood on issues. This relationship with Lott was important in passing the welfare reform, health care plan, and minimum wage legislation. Also, with Morris at Clinton’s side, there was a great deal of dissention between the President and his staff. This new alliance had basically separated them from the rest of the Democratic Party.

Morris felt that there were four keys to Clinton’s easy victory in the 1996 election. The first was his decision to compete for the center with his balanced-budget speech in 1995. This speech helped because, although not all of his proposals would be passed, he would differentiate himself from both conventional Democrats and Republicans. The speech proposed how to balance the budget not whether or not to do so. The next was his decision to advertise early and continually throughout the campaign. It was the first fully advertised presidency in history. The campaign spent 85 million dollars on advertising in 1996, which doubled that of 1992. However, not just anybody with money can win an election through advertising. Clinton advertised the positions that were popular with the public. Clinton’s advertisements worked because his moderate budget plan made sense to the American people as a way to achieve a balanced budget without cutting popular programs. They brought legislative issues to the American public early on and left the Republican issues dead in the water. The third key was the President’s State of the Union Address in 1996 that further accentuated the advertisements. Before the speech Clinton was a minority president but finished a majority president. Approval ratings rose drastically. The last key to his victory was his decision to sign the welfare-reform bill in 1996. This gave the Republicans virtually no chance of catching Clinton’s lead.

In many ways Clinton and his triangulated third force won the election. However, The Republican Party had their fair share of chances to challenge the campaign. Republicans felt that in order to beat Clinton they had to obliterate him. They felt that they needed to lower his support and raise his negatives, and ineffectively used negative attacks and ads, which only detracted from both parties. Clinton’s values campaign showed the average American what an activist president could do for them. Clinton was able to take over the center on Republicans’ fiscal, welfare, and crime issues. Republicans failed to develop any new ideas on values issues. Republicans were caught by their right wing just like the Democrats in the 80s were by their left wing. Democrats could now use pro-lifers, handgun owners, tobacco lobbyists, and militiamen, to put the worst of the extreme right wing in public view. Also, Dole was so worried about losing to Gramm, he left the budget alone until he got the Republican nomination. Republican voters wanted tax cuts and a balanced budget and Dole could have had their support had he proposed any plans for them. Primary voters felt that he was not able to get anything done. Even when Republicans proposed their deal they stuck to it despite the public’s disapproval.

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Behind the Oval Office. (2018, Aug 13). Retrieved from