By winning the New Hampshire primary, Pat Buchanan has done the Republican Party an enormous favor. The party Establishment, which is determined to preserve as much of the Beltway status quo as possible, is now faced with the horrifying prospect of a Buchanan nomination. This, they believe, would lead to the loss of the White House and Congress in November. If the only candidates who can prevent this from happening are Bob Dole or Lamar Alexander, it is not clear how Buchanan can be stopped. He is the only candidate of the three who has connected with the concerns of ordinary people, and it is no longer plausible to think that grass-roots Republicans are going to be aroused against him simply by Establishment fearmongering. As we have been saying for several months, Buchanan’s populist economic program is not at all outrageous. He is quite correct in arguing that from Lincoln through Coolidge, the GOP favored higher taxes on goods produced abroad than on goods produced at home. Buchanan’s program of moderately higher tariffs and moderately lower federal taxes on income and capital gains would be a distinct improvement on anything we have heard from President Clinton. Steve Forbes has been unhesitating in stating that while he is in disagreement with Pat’s nationalist approach, he would support him if he turns out to be the party nominee.
Forbes fans, of course, were rooting like mad for Buchanan yesterday, aware that Steve’s only real chance at making a comeback in the weeks and months ahead would be the disintegration of the Establishment’s two candidates -- Dole and Alexander. Steve was run over by the Establishment’s cultural conservatives in Iowa, who played dirty pool in portraying him as pro-abortion. He was then run over in New Hampshire by the Establishment’s economic conservatives, who misrepresented his flat-tax ideas via the popular GOP Governor, Steve Merrill.
Had Steve allowed these setbacks to discourage him, he would be out of the picture. As it is, he has successfully run the gauntlet with his confidence and his principles intact. In Iowa, he fought off pleas that he alter his views on abortion. In New Hampshire, he fought off pleas that he amend his flat tax in order to seem more reasonable. If he had done either, he would have lost the support of those who will stay with him through thick and thin as long as he does not cave in to “political realities,” which are in abundance in the Dole and Alexander campaigns. On "Larry King Live" on Monday night, Steve was asked what he thinks he will be doing in the year 2000. He said he planned to be running for re-election, and if he is not elected this year, he will run again in 2000! It should now be obvious how incredibly difficult it will be for Dole to assemble a majority of the delegates at the San Diego convention. He is yesterday’s mashed potatoes. Still, because he will remain in the race to conclusion, Alexander will never be able to finish better than third, inasmuch as Dole has the money and organization (although he is getting perilously close to running out of money himself). His only attraction to Republicans is that he is not Dole, which suggests that he will not be able to find the resources to do any better than limp along on a shoestring budget all the way to San Diego.
The political experts have already buried Steve after driving a stake through his heart, but he clearly sees the possibilities ahead. He not only has the resources to continue as long as he likes, he also has the advantage now in knowing his basic themes are popular with Republican voters. The problem is that only 10-to-15% of them so far are brave enough to vote for a man they are seeing for the first time. Exit polls in both Iowa and New Hampshire indicate support closer to 60% for some form of flat-tax. My barber in Morristown, N.J., a Forbes fan, told me yesterday: “He needs someone to vouch for him.”
That someone really should have been Jack Kemp, Steve’s political godfather, who has thus far remained neutral in the race. His neutrality was cleverly bought last year by Dole and Newt Gingrich, with their offer of a “Tax Commission” that Jack had to finance himself. We all know that Steve would not have run if he had been able to persuade Jack to run, thereby filling the void in the growth wing of the party. It should also be clear that Steve would not have run if Jack had told him he would not support his candidacy. On the contrary, Steve had Jack’s assurance of support at their meeting in Phoenix almost a year ago. Kemp’s neutrality has in effect become a negative endorsement. He has in the past explained his reluctance to endorse on the negative tone of Steve’s television commercials. Steve does not apologize for the spots, except to say he now knows he should have spent more time on his own message, less time reminding voters of Dole’s record on taxes.
Two weeks ago, we reported that Steve had offered Jack the position of National Campaign Chairman and Chief Spokesman and that Jack demurred. The campaign today announced that former Wyoming Sen. Malcolm Wallop would take over both titles, and I’m told he will operate full-time in a managerial role out of the Bedminster, N.J. headquarters. Wallop is one of the most impressive and intelligent men I’ve ever met in the political world. You may recall two years ago he worked with Rep. Charlie Rangel [D-NY] in trying to find a growth-oriented budget alternative to the Clinton budget. Wallop has been traveling with the campaign and has sized up its pros and cons with his usual skill. Steve last night asked him to take charge in Bedminster, to put together a team capable of getting things rolling on a positive track. If Wallop has the authority I’m told he will have, Steve will soon be seen back in the middle of the campaign. Kemp will have every opportunity to join in as well, but Steve no longer could afford to negotiate with him.
It would be quixotic of me to suggest that Wallop or Kemp could make all the difference, by upgrading the political skills at the center of the campaign. The Forbes candidacy remains a distinct long shot under the best of circumstances. The Delaware primary on Saturday and the Arizona primary next Tuesday had always been considered sure things for Steve, before he was derailed in Iowa. Now it appears there could be a surge for Buchanan in Arizona and a critical showdown in South Carolina on March 2, which could pave the way for a Buchanan march through the Old South.
Watching the results roll in from New Hampshire last night made me appreciate the wisdom of the electorate more than ever. John Sears, the most astute political analyst I have ever known, told me weeks ago that if Dole wins in Iowa, he will lose in New Hampshire. Why? He said because the voters of New Hampshire will not want the process to end with their primary and they are sophisticated enough to make sure that will not happen. The presidential race this year is too important to be decided quickly. The national electorate is going to take its sweet time.