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These days, Quayle is talk of the town

It is not surprising that there is more public interest in the Trump divorce story in New York than anything going on in Washington these days. Washington, accustomed to thinking of itself as the center of the news universe, has been declared boring, irrelevant and worse. David Broder wrote in Sunday's Washington Post about the eclipse of the nation's capital city. Washington not only is irrelevant to much of what is happening in the world, some of the city's most prominent and influential people told him, but it is not nearly as important as it once was or as it thinks it is now. Confirmation of this is that the television networks want fewer and fewer Washington stories on their evening newscasts.

At depressing times like these Washington can be grateful for Vice President Dan Quayle, whose political future is one of the few topics keeping cocktail party conservations here from sputtering out after two drinks. With nothing better to talk about, Washington insiders have begun speculating on how _ not whether _ President Bush will ease Quayle off the Republican ticket in 1992.

Quayle has been vice president only 13 months, but he's practically been written off the ticket by everyone except George Bush, who has publicly said he thinks Quayle is doing a terrific job and that he has no intention of changing vice presidents in midstream. Donald Trump, of course, says he still loves Ivana, but he wants out of their marriage.

Some Republicans on Capitol Hill and elsewhere are discouraged after watching Quayle's performance as vice president. They give him credit for trying. He has assembled a talented staff heavy with neo-conservative thinkers. According to a recent article in Newsweek, the vice president has been tutored by people such as Henry Kissinger and Jeane Kirkpatrick and has devoured the memoirs of Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle.

But most opinion polls show that Quayle's public image hasn't improved. He still makes embarrassing gaffes ("What a waste it is to lose one's mind," he told the United Negro College Fund, whose fund-raising slogan is "A mind is a terrible thing to waste.") He continues to be prime material for the late-night television comedians.

More disturbing to Quayle's followers, however, are the Republican lawmakers, administration officials and party activists who are whispering to each other about what Post columnist Mary McGrory has called "The Shift."

This scenario sees Quayle being shifted to Defense, Richard Cheney to State and James Baker to the vice presidency.

People who take the big shift theory seriously looked at each other and nodded affirmatively when Baker stood up at a National Prayer Breakfast and gave a "Christian witness." The secretary of state spoke of his "personal journey of faith" and of the fleeting nature of Washington power and celebrity.

No doubt about it, they said to each other, Baker is preparing himself for the vice presidency in 1992 and the presidency in 1996. They believe his prayer breakfast testimony, so out of character for Baker in their view, was an effort to cozy up to the party's conservative wing, particularly the religious right, which has an abiding distrust of Baker. They still blame Baker, White House chief of staff in Ronald Reagan's first term, for not letting Reagan be Reagan.

There are several problems with this scenario. First, it assumes that Bush, who values loyalty above everything else, would go back on his word to keep Quayle on the ticket. Also, Bush has never been one who likes to admit his mistakes.

Second, to dump Quayle for Baker, who is known for his political pragmatisim and his strategic mind, would provoke shrieks from the Republican right, which sees Quayle as its ideological ally and as the administration's leading skeptic about Soviet intentions.

Third, would it make sense for Baker to give up his job as secretary of state, which keeps him in the thick of the extraordinary events shaping a new world order, to move into the vice presidency, a job that can make even the most gifted of men appear insignificant?

One Texan who knows Baker said the secretary of state would be crazy to give up his high visibility on the world stage to become vice president. If Baker decides to seek the GOP presidential nomination in 1996, this Texan says, he would do well to stay where he is until he is ready to become an active candidate.

Oh yes, there's the matter of a constitutional ban on the president and vice president being from the same state. Baker is a real Texan, born and raised there. Bush is a Connecticut Yankee who moved to Texas to get into the oil business and later politics. Bush claims Texas as his home and lists a hotel suite in Houston as his voting residence.

Bush, of course, could change his official residence to Maine, which is where he has the only house he owns. But that might not play too well with the public. Enough of this.

Is it any wonder that people prefer the story of the Trumps' marital warfare, with its delicious mix of sex, power and money? For now, there's nothing in Washington that even comes close.