His maternal grandfather, Eugene C. Pulliam, was a wealthy and influential publishing magnate who founded Central Newspapers, Inc., owner of over a dozen major newspapers such as the Arizona Republic and The Indianapolis Star. James C. Quayle moved his family to Arizona in 1955 to run a branch of the family's publishing empire. While the Quayle family was very wealthy, Dan Quayle was less so; his total net worth by the time of his election in 1988 was less than a million dollars.
After spending much of his youth in Arizona, he graduated from Huntington High School in Huntington, Indiana, in 1965. He then matriculated at DePauw University, where he received his B.A. degree in political science in 1969, and where he was a member of the fraternity Delta Kappa Epsilon. After receiving his degree, Quayle joined the Indiana Army National Guard and served from 1969–1975, attaining the rank of Sergeant. While serving in the Guard, he earned a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree in 1974 at Indiana University School of Law Indianapolis. It was at law school where Dan met his wife, Marilyn, who was taking night classes at the time.
In 1976, Quayle was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Indiana's 4th congressional district, defeating eight-term incumbent Democrat J. Edward Roush. He won reelection in 1978 by the greatest percentage margin ever achieved to that date in the northeast Indiana district. In 1980, at age 33, Quayle became the youngest person ever elected to the U.S. Senate from the state of Indiana, defeating three-term incumbent Democrat Birch Bayh. Making Indiana political history again, Quayle was reelected to the Senate in 1986 with the largest margin ever achieved to that date by a candidate in a statewide Indiana race. His 1986 victory was notable because several other Republican Senators elected in 1980 were not returned to office.
In 1986, Quayle received much criticism for championing the cause of Daniel Anthony Manion, a candidate for a federal appellate judgeship, who was in law school one year above Quayle. The American Bar Association had evaluated him as qualified, its lowest passing grade. According to the ABA, "the rating of 'qualified' means that the nominee satisfies the committees very high standards... (and) is qualified to perform satisfactorily all the duties and responsibilities required of a federal judge." Manion was nominated for U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit by President Ronald Reagan on February 21, 1986, and confirmed by the Senate on June 26, 1986. As of 2008, Manion continues to serve on the Seventh Circuit.
On August 17 at the Republican convention in New Orleans, Louisiana, George H. W. Bush called on Quayle to be his running mate in the 1988 United States presidential election. The choice immediately became controversial. Press coverage of the convention was dominated with questions about the three Quayle problems, in the phrase of Brent Baker, executive director of the Media Research Center, a conservative group that monitors television coverage. The questions involved his military service, a golf trip to Florida with a female lobbyist and whether he had enough experience to be President. Quayle seemed at times rattled, at other times uncertain or evasive as he tried to handle the questions. Delegates to the convention generally blamed television and newspapers for the focus on Quayle's problems, but Bush's staff said they thought Quayle had mishandled the questions about his military record, leaving questions dangling. Although Republicans were trailing by up to 15 points in public opinion polls taken before the convention, they received a significant boost that put them in the lead, which they did not relinquish for the rest of the campaign.
There was much criticism of Quayle after the campaign's televised vice-presidential debate, in which he compared his amount of Congressional experience to that of John F. Kennedy when he was running for president. Democratic candidate Lloyd Bentsen said in rebuttal, "Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy," to which a noticeably surprised and unprepared Quayle replied, "That was really uncalled for, Senator," as both applause and boos were heard from the debate audience. Bentsen replied that it was Quayle who had made the initial comparison. Quayle's reaction to Bentsen's comment was played and replayed by the Democrats in their subsequent television ads as an announcer intoned: "Quayle: just a heartbeat away." Comedians exploited the exchange, and an increasing number of editorial cartoons depicted Quayle as an infant or child. Though the controversy generated much press, public opinion polls did not significantly change, and the Republicans maintained a solid lead. Although Quayle was significantly embarrassed by the incident, in his version of events, he contended that he had accomplished what he had planned in the debate; which was to scorn the "liberal" record of Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis, while avoiding direct comparison with the far more accomplished and polished Bentsen.
President Bush named Quayle head of the Council on Competitiveness and the first chairman of the National Space Council. As head of the NSC he called for greater efforts to protect the earth against the danger of potential asteroid impacts.
Throughout his time as vice president, Quayle was widely ridiculed in the media and by many in the general public, in both the USA and overseas, as an intellectual lightweight. Contributing greatly to the perception of Quayle's incompetence was his tendency to make public statements which were either self-contradictory ("We don't want to go back to tomorrow, we want to go forward"), logically redundant ("The future will be better tomorrow"), obvious ("For NASA, space is still a high priority"), geographically wrong ("I love California. I practically grew up in Phoenix."), fallacious ("It's time for the human race to enter the solar system"), or painfully confused and inappropriate, as when he addressed the United Negro College Fund, whose slogan is "A mind is a terrible thing to waste", Quayle said "You take the United Negro College Fund model that what a waste it is to lose one's mind or not to have a mind is being very wasteful. How true that is.
Shortly after Bush announced the Space Exploration Initiative, which included a manned landing on Mars, Quayle was asked his thoughts on sending humans to Mars. In his response he made a number of errors: "Mars is essentially in the same orbit [as earth]....Mars is somewhat the same distance from the Sun, which is very important. We have seen pictures where there are canals, we believe, and water. If there is water, that means there is oxygen. If oxygen, that means we can breathe.
His most famous blunder occurred when he corrected a student's correct spelling of "potato" to "potatoe" at an elementary school spelling bee in Trenton, New Jersey, on June 15, 1992. According to his memoirs, Quayle was uncomfortable with the version he gave, but did so because he decided to trust what he described as incorrect written materials provided by the school. He informed student William Figueroa that he had misspelled the word "potato", when in fact Figueroa had spelled it correctly. Quayle then had Figueroa add an "e", not only making it incorrect, but once again making himself a target with this misspelling. Quayle was widely lambasted for his apparent inability to spell the word "potato". Figueroa was a guest on Late Night with David Letterman and was asked to lead the pledge of allegiance at the 1992 Democratic National Convention.
On May 19, 1992, Quayle gave a speech to the Commonwealth Club of California on the subject of the Los Angeles riots. In this speech Quayle blamed the violence on a decay of moral values and family structure in American society. In an aside, he cited the fictional title character in the television program Murphy Brown as an example of how popular culture contributes to this "poverty of values", saying: "[i]t doesn't help matters when primetime TV has Murphy Brown—a character who supposedly epitomizes today's intelligent, highly paid, professional woman—mocking the importance of fathers, by bearing a child alone, and calling it just another 'lifestyle choice.'" Quayle drew a firestorm of criticism from feminist and liberal organizations and was widely ridiculed by late-night talk-show hosts for this remark.The "Murphy Brown speech" became one of the most memorable incidents of the 1992 campaign. Long after the outcry had ended, the comment continued to have an effect on U.S. politics. Stephanie Coontz, a professor of family history and the author of several books and essays about the history of marriage, says that this brief remark by Quayle about Murphy Brown "kicked off more than a decade of outcries against the 'collapse of the family.' In 2002, Candice Bergen, the actress who played Brown, said "I never have really said much about the whole episode, which was endless, but his speech was a perfectly intelligent speech about fathers not being dispensable and nobody agreed with that more than I did.
As Bush lagged in the polls in the weeks preceding the August 1992 Republican National Convention, some Republican strategists (led by Secretary of State James Baker III), viewed Quayle as a liability to the ticket and pushed for his replacement. Quayle survived the challenge and secured re-nomination.
Quayle faced off against Gore and Stockdale in the vice-presidential debate on October 13, 1992. Quayle attempted to avoid the one-sided outcome of his debate with Lloyd Bentsen four years earlier by staying on the offensive. Quayle criticized Gore's book Earth in the Balance with specific page references, though his claims were subsequently criticized for inaccuracy. Quayle's closing argument sharply asked voters "Do you really believe Bill Clinton will tell the truth?" and "Do you trust Bill Clinton to be your president?", whereas Gore and Stockdale talked more about the policies and philosophies they espoused. Republican loyalists were largely relieved and pleased with Quayle's performance, and the Vice President's camp attempted to portray it as an upset triumph against a veteran debater. However, post-debate polls were mixed on whether Gore or Quayle had won. Like most vice-presidential debates, it ultimately proved to be a minor factor in the election, which Bush and Quayle would subsequently lose.
He declined to run for the 1996 Republican presidential nomination, citing health problems related to phlebitis.
In April 1999, he announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination for 2000, attacking George W. Bush by saying "we do not want another candidate who needs on-the-job training". In the first contest among the Republican candidates, the Ames Straw Poll of August 1999, he finished eighth. Commentators said that while he had the most political experience among prospective candidates (over Bush and Elizabeth Dole) and potential grassroots support among conservatives, his campaign was hampered by the legacy of his vice-presidency. He withdrew from the race the following month and supported Bush.
It was reported in the May 5, 2007 The New York Times in an article about a lawsuit filed by Greg LeMond against Timothy Blixseth, that Dan Quayle and Bill Gates both have homes in the ultra-exclusive Yellowstone Club, a Rocky Mountain ski and golf club located near Big Sky, Montana, just north of Yellowstone National Park.
Dan Quayle is Chairman of an international division of Cerberus Capital Management, a multi-billion dollar private equity firm, and president of Quayle and Associates. He is an Honorary Trustee Emeritus of the Hudson Institute.
Quayle authored a memoir, Standing Firm, which became a bestseller. His second book, The American Family: Discovering the Values that Make Us Strong, was published in the spring of 1996 and a third book, Worth Fighting For, in 1999. Quayle also writes a nationally syndicated newspaper column, serves on a number of corporate boards, chairs several business ventures, and was chairman of Campaign America, a national political action committee. As chairman of the international advisory board of Cerberus Capital Management, he recruited former Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney, who would have been installed as chairman if Cerberus had successfully acquired Air Canada.
The Quayles live in Paradise Valley, Arizona. Quayle, then working as an investment banker in Phoenix, was mentioned as a candidate for Governor of Arizona prior to the 2002 election, but he declined to run.
Dan Quayle signed the statement of principles of the Project for the New American Century.
The Dan Quayle Center and Museum is located in Huntington, Indiana, and features information on Quayle and all U.S. vice presidents.