The Power Pyramid
Jude Wanniski
May 12, 1993


Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole, for the first time in his political career, is on top of his party's power pyramid. By virtue of his handling of the Senate filibuster against the Clinton economic stimulus plan, he now commands the respect of all factions of the Republican Party. He is also being watched with a new, wary respect by the leadership of the Democratic Party, which had previously looked at him as a Beltway player who could be dealt with in the usual manner. The New York Times editorial page, praising him in recent years for his statesmanship in playing ball with the establishment, now denounces him as the "Dark Prince of Gridlock," engaged in a "shameful strut" while "shilling for a corrupt status quo." We can't know how long Dole will remain on top. One misstep and he could be embroiled in bitter party factionalism, with leadership up for grabs. For the moment, with the White House in disarray over confused foreign and domestic agendas, Dole is where the action is. If a presidential election were held today, the buzz is that he would win hands down.

The power pyramid differentiates political organizations from other types. In business or social institutions which represent only fractions of society, a two-dimensional organization chart is sufficient to lay out the power chain of command. In politics, where a political party has to be prepared to represent all of society in order to govern, only a three-dimensional pyramid can capture the essence of the power chain. The top block of the pyramid is itself the only block shaped like a pyramid, with all differences beneath composed to the point. Below this rests four blocks, and beneath these four, in the third tier, are nine blocks, then sixteen, then 25, 36, 49, 64, etc. In a nation the size of the United States, the power pyramid would have at its base the square of 900 blocks.

In the GOP pyramid, the second tier beneath Dole are four blocks representing the most important factions of the party. One, at the north, is the growth faction, led by Jack Kemp. Two, at the south, is the austerity faction, which had been led by Dole and is now led by Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas. Three, at the west, is William Bennett, representing the social conservatives. Four, east, is Governor Bill Weld of Massachusetts, representing the social liberals. All four factions are necessary. If they did not all exist, the party would not be able to present a team the national electorate could trust to govern. Everyone at the base of the pyramid has to be able to locate someone at the apex to represent his or her views.

Senator Dole belongs at the top of the GOP pyramid not only because he is Senate Minority Leader, but also because he has demonstrated the wisdom and experience to be the party leader. Just because he came from the austerity wing of the party does not mean that he will necessarily lead the party in that direction. Now that he is on top, his objective in using the austerity forces as a platform to get to the top has given way to a new objective: winning over the factions that he has not been identified with. The fact is, Dole has never been extreme in representing or opposing any faction. He has moved like Ronald Reagan, who climbed to the top of the pyramid by identifying with the austerity and social conservative factions and then accommodating the other factions. As long as he does, he forces the leaders of the factions beneath him to stay put and follow his lead. If he does not, he opens himself to attacks from below.

In 1979, then as now, Jack Kemp was the leader of the growth faction in the GOP and his followers urged him to seek the party's top position the 1980 presidential nomination. In a summer meeting in California, Reagan persuaded Kemp that he, Reagan, could represent the supply-side economic views that formed the core of the GOP's growth agenda. Kemp committed himself to Reagan and his followers were pulled along. It was a wise move by the young Buffalo congressman. Fourteen years later, Kemp now finds himself in almost the same position vis a vis Dole. Now it is clear that as long as Dole is prepared to represent the core of the growth agenda, it is Kemp who has no choice but to follow. With the 1996 presidential elections still beyond the horizon, the party's challenge is to remain unified in order to operate within the nation's larger power pyramid, at whose apex is President Clinton. As long as Dole handles himself skillfully, no factional leader will be able to challenge him at this point without incurring the resentment of the party faithful in the lower ranks.

"Politics makes for strange bedfellows," goes the expression, and the metaphor of the pyramid helps us understand why. Where Senators Dole and Gramm had been allies within the GOP austerity bloc, they became competitors immediately after the defeat of President Bush, as both vied for the leadership position in the pyramid. Where Dole and Kemp had been adversaries, in competing factions, they are now converging as Dole maneuvers to solidify his position. The odds now favor Dole as the party's presidential nominee in 1996, a feat he can pull off if he can lead the GOP to success in the congressional elections next year. By the same logic, the odds would favor Kemp as his running mate.

Kemp's difficulty in winning the GOP nomination in 1988 will persist in 1996, as his greatest potential political strength lies within the broader power pyramid among the younger black and Hispanic voters trapped in the Democratic Party. This is why Kemp appears to be flailing about, at sea. The Bennett wing of the party is unhappy with him because he cannot be as conservative on social issues as it wishes, or he would lose his appeal to minorities. The Weld bloc would resist him because he is too conservative on social issues. The Gramm bloc rejects him because he refuses to worship at the shrine of a balanced budget. Even the growth bloc is uncertain about his leadership, second-guessing his decision to go into the Bush administration instead of staying outside in a watchdog role, as well as remaining inside the Cabinet after Bush had broken his commitment to the growth agenda. Kemp, though, remains the GOP's best opportunity for revitalization. He is the only potential agent for party realignment -- which is what we might imagine a Dole-Kemp alliance would accomplish.

In 1992, both parties were dominated by their austerity wings, an instability that produced the Perot factor. The electorate was not happy with options available in a Bush/Clinton contest. It's not yet clear how it will turn out, but perhaps in the next round of elections one party will become the party of entrepreneurial capitalism and the other party will remain dominated by mature enterprise and its aversion to risk. The party of entrepreneurial capitalism will of course have to be the party most attractive to those Americans who have most of their growth in front of them younger voters, including younger black, Hispanic, and other wannabe capitalists. Remember that prior to the Great Depression, the GOP was just such a party, although also inward looking and protectionist. The Democratic Party, prior to FDR, had its base in the racist, white South and was, in commercial and geopolitical outlook, internationalist.

In those days, the poll tax was one method of limiting the political influence of blacks. Today, the equivalent is the capital gains tax. If the GOP is to sell its growth agenda, it really has to start with those whom it benefits most young black males not those whom it benefits least old white males. It must also end its flirtation with social Darwinism and budget austerity, which limits its appeal to the have-nots, as Irving Kristol observes in this morning's Wall Street Journal. Country club Republicans will, of course, resist this imperative, and if they are successful, the GOP will shift back to Bush/Brady types instead of Reagan/Kemp. If they fail, the next generation of country club Republicans will vote Democratic, as many do already.

How far will Dole push in this direction? After all, he is not a country club Republican, but a war hero with a withered right arm who identifies with the handicapped, not polo players. At a press conference this morning, he was on hand to cheer the introduction of a "jobs creation bill" by Sen. Trent Lott, Sen. Bill Roth and Sen. Gramm that includes the indexation of capital gains, an idea Dole has taken to heart. Except for the capgains feature, though, the bill is poorly designed, a mishmash of corporate handouts and "super IRAs" that benefit country clubbers with surplus cash all paid for by slashing aid to mass transit, legal services for the poor, and Davis-Bacon wages for blue collar construction workers. This is exactly the problem Kristol cites a little bit of Kemp and a lot of Gramm. Nevertheless, Dole's movement is in the right direction, toward Kemp and away from the austerity bloc and its new leader, Senator Gramm. At the top of the GOP pyramid, Dole is clearly feeling his way to a better understanding and commitment to the growth agenda. We shall see how far he gets.