General Colin Powell’s withdrawal from the presidential race removes the most serious technical barrier to the nomination of Malcolm S. “Steve” Forbes, Jr., as the Republican candidate -- in that both Forbes and Powell come from the same philosophical wing of the GOP. If Powell had run, the limited resources in that centrist/growth wing would have been divided, weakening both men. This would almost have guaranteed that Senator Bob Dole would collect a majority of the delegates, adding the winner-take-all Texas and California delegate blocs to his starting bloc from New York. Think of it this way: In the spring and summer of 1979, Ronald Reagan’s campaign manager, John Sears, devoted great energy persuading Jack Kemp to join Reagan instead of running himself. If Kemp had run, the considerable intellectual resources assembled around him would have been denied Reagan, whose own basic team of advisors were traditional austerity conservatives. George Bush, the organization candidate in 1980 as Dole is today, might easily have run up the middle of the Reagan/Kemp divide and won the 1980 nomination. Similarly, if Powell had decided to run, the gathering force behind the Forbes campaign would have stopped in its tracks. The resources leaning toward him would shift to Powell on the assumption that Powell would be the more likely man to win the nomination and beat President Clinton. Dole, who after all these years still does not understand presidential politics, devoted considerable energy in helping drive General Powell out of the race. Two of his key advisors, Vin Weber and David Keane, arranged the right-wing press conference that two weeks ago denounced Powell for his Rockefeller Republicanism.
The GOP race will inevitably come down to two men, one who attracts the important forces of austerity and pessimism in the party -- favoring incremental change and a focus on fiscal responsibility. The counter pole will attract the considerable forces of optimism and change in the party, the radical centrists who focus on risk-taking and growth. Once you think of the race as political, not as a sporting contest, you can see a Forbes/Dole race shaping up. The only reason for there to be a third GOP contender would be an overlap and confusion among the two principles. In 1940, Wendell Wilkie was drawn into the GOP race of several contenders, all status quo nationalists. His upbeat, pro-growth internationalism finally won on the sixth ballot at the Philadelphia convention. This year, Steve Forbes should have the nomination in hand prior to the San Diego convention, as Dole and Pat Buchanan are his only serious competitors. Dole’s status quo appeal is to the party’s elite. Buchanan’s pessimism and nationalism attracts grass roots conservatives of that bent, a narrow faction that will gradually be won over to Forbes’ Reaganesque appeal.
Forbes has all the mechanical forces working for him in this scenario. If this were an experiment in a physics or chemistry lab we could now calculate his victory with precision. In a very human laboratory, there are still aspects of an athletic contest here, which require that Forbes execute his strategic plan without major blunders. As I noted in my last report on the race (“Steve Skywalker” 10-19), Forbes ultimately rejected the advice that he turn his campaign over to a professional strategist and is mapping strategy himself. He is depending on his own political instincts, while welcoming unlimited kibitzing, a natural side to his personality. He has proceeded far more methodically than the pros would have recommended, but has made no mistakes. What has surprised everyone is his commitment of shoe-leather as well as money to the campaign. Since he announced two months ago, he has been living in Iowa, New Hampshire, Florida and Arizona, the early primary states, with 15-hour days the norm, kissing pigs and babies, with every spare half-hour filled in with a local radio call-in show. Where the other candidates have essentially shown all their cards, Forbes continues to husband those resources, so far sticking to his basic economic themes.
The national press corps is now taking him seriously, observing his steady rise in the polls where he has concentrated his campaigning. In Arizona, he actually won the straw poll at the state fair last week and led Dole 6,099 to 5,226 in the 18-city project in Tucson, according to the Arizona Republic (“Publisher Leads State’s GOP Polls” 11-10). In Iowa, he is second to Dole with 14%, a number that steadily climbs, brick by brick. The opposition candidates pooh-pooh the results, saying Steve has “bought” them with his free-spending on TV spots, suggesting they will dissipate. Jack Kemp knows that this is nonsense, and that Steve is somehow making it work with support that spreads by word of mouth. In 1988, in a five-week period, Kemp’s team poured several million dollars into TV spots in Iowa. He had 3.2% when the spots began running and 3.2% five weeks later.
There are only three political “endorsements” that still really matter between now and the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary -- Kemp’s, Powell’s, and Ross Perot’s. Dole will collect the lion’s share of the notable party organization endorsements. Gov. John Engler of Michigan is the one governor that may elude Dole, as Forbes still has his eye on Engler as a possible running mate. Kemp will almost certainly join the Forbes campaign in a major role after his Tax Commission reports in January. If Kemp, then Powell. It is inconceivable to me that Powell would endorse Bob Dole or that he would accept a Dole offer of second-spot on the GOP ticket. Powell’s views on foreign policy and national security, his forte, are almost diametrically opposite Dole’s.
Dole’s steady decline in the poll match-ups with the other GOP candidates and with Clinton suggest the inevitability of his failure to win the GOP nomination or the presidency. If he were to win the GOP nomination, Ross Perot might run as an independent on the assumption that Dole would lose anyway, and he might as well use 1996 to build his new party and influence policymaking. He might even think he could win a three-way split with a better campaign than he ran as a neophyte, and with a serious running mate that might attract wholesale black votes away from Clinton’s base. Remember, Perot was on a roll in 1992 before Ed Rollins, his campaign manager, insulted Jesse Jackson away from the campaign. Perot and the Rev. Jackson, we tend to forget, were allied a number of times in the ‘80s as citizen diplomats.
If Forbes can continue to methodically build that skyscraper brick by brick between now and the Iowa caucuses, with Kemp and Powell coming aboard, it would appear to Perot that his United We Stand crowd would be sufficiently impressed that they would want to join that effort instead of spoiling it. He would see that Forbes could beat Clinton head-on, but his candidacy would drain votes from Forbes. His best move would be to have his independent party endorse Steve, giving him two lines on all ballots, enabling those who refuse to cast a GOP ballot a chance to pick Forbes over Clinton on the independent line.
With the holidays upon us, the electorate will soon be shutting off its political attention until the new year. The most important event for Forbes will be his December 13 dinner at the Waldorf, which will afford him an opportunity to broaden his message to 1400 of his closest supporters in entrepreneurial America. The press will no doubt dub it “The Millionaire Man March.” The co-chairmen of the event are Alan “Ace” Greenberg of Bear Stearns and Leonard Lauder of Estee Lauder. “Ace,” the most entrepreneurial of the big investment bankers, was co-chair of his friend Ross Perot’s Wall Street effort in 1992. In betting his chips on Steve, he is sending a variety of messages, not the least of which is that he thinks he can win it all. We of course have always believed he could go all the way to the Oval Office, because he is the best fit as President for the times and circumstances. We now have reason to be confident that he will.