Suddenly it is dawning on the political cognoscenti that Pat Buchanan not only could win the Republican nomination, but also might win the White House in November. After another brilliant performance last night in the New Hampshire debate, Buchanan is in a clear lead in the tracking polls and could easily win the primary. As we have been noting for some time, he is the only candidate in the field other than Steve Forbes who has been addressing the concerns of ordinary people, and thus far he has been more skilled at getting his message across. In todayís New York Post, columnist Maggie Gallagher comes to this conclusion: ďLet me be bold here: I disagree with many of Pat Buchananís positions; nonetheless, I think he not only can but likely will win the GOP nomination. Expect him to run very strongly in the South and in northern industrial states, such as Michigan and New Jersey, with large Catholic populations; and his anti-immigration stance has a strong appeal in California. Let me be bolder still: If nominated, Buchanan will likely unseat Bill Clinton. Among other things, he appeals to both Perot voters (whose defection sank the Bush candidacy) and white men and women making $30,000 a year or less -- exactly the swing vote that put the GOP in control of Congress.Ē
The only GOP candidate who can overtake Buchanan is Steve Forbes, who at the moment is at 15% in the New Hampshire tracking poll compared to Patís 26%. Steve did not hurt himself in the debate and even was rewarded with a 1% advance in the tracking poll. His policy positions clearly remain the best of the bunch and heís grown more comfortable as a candidate, but he still has not recovered from the bashing he took in Iowa. In addition, he has slipped into a prescriptive mode -- reciting his terrific list of policy ideas without any diagnosis. The voters have to know you understand why they are sick, not merely what pills to take. Buchananís diagnosis is that real wages have been falling for ordinary people because of trade agreements that force them into competition with low-wage countries. For the country as a whole he may be incorrect, in that such agreements enable us to trade more high value-added goods for a bigger bundle of low value-added goods. For those ordinary people who produce low value-added goods, however, Buchanan is quite correct. These are the folks who make less than $30,000 a year. Pat proposes to temporarily retreat behind higher tariff and immigration walls in order to cure our ills with lower tax supply-side economic policies that were not designed at the Forbes yacht basin.
Steveís position is far better, if it ever could make it through the avalanche of opposition to his candidacy. The correct diagnosis is that in the last 30 years, prices have been rising twice as fast as wages, which is why it now takes two breadwinners to do what one could do previously. The prescription, then, is to have wages rise twice as fast as prices, via a gold standard and a pure flat tax that liberates capital. Those ordinary folk now earning less than $30,000 a year at low value-added jobs and anxious about losing more jobs to cheap labor elsewhere, would suddenly find themselves in demand as domestic capital formed in a hurry. As we have observed frequently, Steve may be the best candidate in the field, but he is an amateur politician with an inexperienced organization. That could be solved if Jack Kemp would end his neutrality. Steve has asked Jack to be his national campaign chairman and chief spokesman, which would give him one person on his team who actually has been through the presidential political wars. By remaining on the sidelines, Kemp may wind up seeing the leadership of the GOPís growth wing go to Buchanan.
Kempís neutrality is probably tied to direct or implied promises he made to Bob Dole in connection with the Tax Commission he chaired at the behest of Dole and Speaker Newt Gingrich. If he watched the New Hampshire debate last night, he saw a Dole who is so clearly crumbling that even his staunchest supporters are losing heart. William Safire of The New York Times, who has been Doleís primary cheerleader in the national press corps, yesterday informed his readers that Lamar Alexander is his second choice. Under no circumstances must Forbes be allowed to get the nomination, says Safire. It canít happen! At bottom, Safire represents the global Cold Warriors, who are afraid that a President Forbes would ask Colin Powell to be Secretary of State, which is what Steve has said publicly he just might do. (Dole has said the same thing, but he didnít mean it.)
It should be no surprise if Dole gets less than 20% of the vote on Tuesday. There will be a big independent vote, none at all interested in Dole. If he sinks in New Hampshire, he cannot recover. Doleís support around the rest of the nation rests on the backing by GOP governors, almost all of whom have endorsed him. Why? Because as long as the fiscal 1996 budget deal has not been resolved on Capitol Hill, the entitlement formulas on Medicare and Medicaid can be altered. Dole has the power to move those numbers around, the governors are privately saying. Even small changes can amount to hundreds of millions of dollars. Why do you think New Jersey Gov. Christie Whitman endorsed Dole? It was pitiful to watch Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld on Wednesday stand before a press conference practically holding his nose while grumping out a pro forma Dole endorsement. Two weeks ago, Weld told Meet the Press that Steve Forbes in 1994 gave one of the best political speeches he ever heard in his life! Is Dole capable of such old-fashioned hardball politics? You need only observe how he and New York Sen. Al DíAmato maneuvered to keep the competition off the New York ballot to have that question answered.
Whatever happens on Tuesday, we can be sure the four candidates will remain in the race. The dynamics will change once again. Even if Forbes finishes fourth, he could recover if Kemp joins the campaign and restores Steveís aura of authenticity that was damaged in Iowa. The Kemp complaint that Steve should not be negative ignores the fact that Steve has to defend himself. If Kemp were Steveís spokesman he could be defending Steve against the false assertions of the other candidates. It could be Kemp blasting New Hampshire Gov. Steve Merrill for his bald-faced lies about the flat tax. It could be Kemp denouncing the Christian Coalition leadership for their underground slanders against Steveís position on abortion. When Steve defends himself, his competitors assail him for being negative. Itís tough to fight alone.
Steve has said it took him so much trouble to get on the New York ballot, that he will of course stay in the race at least until New York. This now leads to more speculation about a brokered convention in San Diego. Tune in to the weekend talk shows for last minute maneuvers. Steve will be on "Meet the Press" and Pat Buchanan seems to be turning up everywhere. Democracy is certainly wonderful, but it can be exhausting too.