The Racing Form: Backstretch Primaries
Jude Wanniski
March 1, 1996


The highest priority of an institution, such as the Republican Party, is self-preservation. We should bear that in mind as we watch the nomination process unfold, especially in the quick burst over the next seven days: primaries tomorrow in South Carolina, Sunday in Puerto Rico, Tuesday in Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont and caucuses in Minnesota, all leading up to the Thursday prize in New York. At the moment, the Party’s organization remains in a defense mode. Its candidate, Bob Dole, is not likely to win the White House, but he would run a safe race, and the GOP would retain control of the Senate and House and not lose much at the state and local level. Its backup candidate, Lamar Alexander, did reasonably well in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, but he really doesn’t represent anything but a backup to Dole. He will be able to stay in the race only if the organization needs a fall back candidate in a brokered convention -- someone to get Dole’s delegates and enough from Steve Forbes and Pat Buchanan to squeak through on multiple ballots. Party fears that Dole would lose his cool and self-destruct have diminished. The chances of another candidate showing up in San Diego -- a Colin Powell or a Jack Kemp -- are extremely low, as they have not run the democratic gauntlet in preparation for the run against President Clinton and a possible third-party Perot candidacy.

The second highest priority of an institution, such as the GOP, is to expand its strength if possible. The institutional leaders believe that a Pat Buchanan candidacy would cause massive losses in Congress and in state and local governments, a la Barry Goldwater’s candidacy in 1964. I tend to believe Buchanan is doing as well as he is because: “I mean what I say and I say what I mean.” The electorate rewards him for his reckless honesty -- as well as his identification with the anxieties of ordinary people and his passion on cultural issues. If he were the GOP candidate, I think he would have a slightly better chance of getting to the White House than did Goldwater, because we are in peacetime conditions. The electorate would have to protect itself against potential excesses, though, by taking the House, and maybe the Senate, away from the GOP and Newt Gingrich. My guess is there would be minimal change to GOP holdings at state and local levels.

As an untested political leader, Steve Forbes came into the race with more question marks than Buchanan, as far as the Institution was concerned. He has to prove his worth, through trials of fire, before party leaders can make the calculation that he is at least as safe as Dole or Alexander. Once they reach that point, they can begin to assess Steve’s potential for bringing strength to the party as an institution. First, is he capable of being President? Then, can he win the White House in a way that enables the party to keep control of Congress? In other words, is he the man who can oversee the orderly reorganization of the national government?

This, after all, is what the United States as an Institution is looking for. As a people, we know we have to fix the central government, to demobilize and clean house after 50 years of Cold War. The entire ruling class, Democratic as well as Republican, knows the federal tax code is 83 years old and 7 million words long and can no longer be patched up. It knows the money has to be fixed. It knows hope, growth and opportunity -- a Fluid Society -- have to be restored. It knows these things have to be done in a way that causes the least amount of strain and stress on an exhausted population. It knows we have international obligations that can not be shirked. Is Steve Forbes the man? If he is not, the ruling class is essentially saying we have to wait four more years until the right man can be developed to take on the reorganization.

Why is Steve the only candidate in the field who can do the job now? It is because he is the only Outsider who has not mortgaged himself in order to get to the Oval Office. No matter how many read-my-lips promises Bob Dole or Bill Clinton make to the voters this fall on what they will do as President, they can’t deliver. This, after all, is the biggest reason why Jack Kemp did not run. To raise $20 million, the promises you have to make to the interests that feed off the tax codes and the floating currency make that impossible. The metaphor I like is that of the knot tied by King Gordius of Phrygia, which an oracle declared would be undone by one destined to conquer Asia. Instead of fussing with the impossible knot, Alexander the Great simply cut it with his sword, and marched on to conquest. For this reason, we can count on Steve Forbes hacking at the tax code with his pure flat tax throughout the campaign, instead of fussing with its impossible knots.

This is why I’ve suggested it isn’t really possible to think of Steve winning the nomination unless he cracks the GOP establishment. When, and only when, Jack Kemp and Ted Forstmann endorse Steve will we be sure that he can receive the nomination. They are the relevant men on the margin. No others will do. Each sits atop pyramids of their own within the ruling class -- political and financial, overlooking men and women of influence who await their deliberations, calculations, and signal. If they come in, as I hope they might this weekend, Steve can do well enough in the backstretch next week to keep him in serious contention. He needs to win something by Tuesday to be taken seriously in New York on Thursday. Connecticut would be perfect, a flat tax state that Democrat Jerry Brown won in ’92. The Forbes coordinator in Connecticut believes a visible Kemp endorsement would win the state. If Steve wins New York, against the combined party powers of Dole, D’Amato and Pataki, he would be well on his way.