If the Republican Party had done as well on Tuesday as their forecasters predicted, there would have been celebrations by the cultural conservatives and the religious right on the wisdom of the voters in punishing Democrats for the Presidentís sins. Bill Kristol, whose Weekly Standard designed the clever strategy sold to House Speaker Newt Gingrich of avoiding substantive issues and concentrating on morality, would be the man of the hour. Gary Bauer, head of the Family Research Council, would announce his candidacy for the GOP presidential nomination, certain the voters are now more than ever ready for rectitude in the Oval Office. Bill Bennett of Empower America, the nationís piety laureate, would be asserting that if only the party leadership had pushed harder on abortion and crime, it would have picked up even more seats everywhere. The Wall Street Journal would have declared that the impeachment of the President, along with tar and feathers, must go forward no matter what.
In its wisdom, the national electorate decided to put an end to that foolishness. It did so with exquisite precision. In 1996, as the President won easy re-election, the electorate rewarded the new Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott with a few extra Republicans and punished House Speaker Newt Gingrich by reducing the GOP majority in the 105th Congress. On Tuesday, the voters gave Lott no reward for his flaccid performance this year, but at least did not reduce his margin, which probably would have meant his departure as Senate leader. Heís probably saved by Jim Bunningís pickup of the Kentucky seat by a few thousand votes. Even The New York Times today urges Republicans to forgive him because he is still learning on the job. Gingrich, though, was punished again, as the voters reduced his dwindling majority by another five seats. The voters of course are still saying they want Republicans to run the Congress, but they are getting frustrated waiting for action. In blaming the press corps for his partyís poor showing this week, Gingrich continues to demonstrate he is unfit for the post of Speaker and must resign the post or be replaced by a challenger when the new caucus meets to choose its leaders for the 106th Congress. Appropriations Chairman Bob Livingston of Louisiana is the most likely contender. If Newt were to step down, Iíd like to see Jennifer Dunn of Washington run, but she would not challenge Newt if he decides to slug it out. Dunn is now in the leadership, has her priorities straight, and is definitely not threatening in her demeanor, as many Republicans seem to be.
In his NYTimes column today, William Safire concludes that the cultural conservatives have had their shot at it and lost and the party should turn to the economic conservatives in preparation for 2000 -- by which he means George W Bush, whose landslide win in Texas makes him the obvious choice of organization Republicans. There is no mention anywhere of Jack Kemp being a serious candidate and most of the political writers are assuming he will not run. Las Vegas betting parlors have him a 15-to-1 shot, behind Steve Forbes at 12-to-1 and Bush the favorite at 4-to-1. The outcome of the election does make it much more likely that Kemp will be a candidate, at which point the odds would change. One of the major reasons Kemp chose not to run in 1996 was that the cultural conservatives had come to dominate the party. This meant a long grinding struggle against Bob Dole, one that would require $25 million when he still owed money from his unsuccessful 1988 run. The cultural conservatives are no longer dominant and neither would money be a problem. Kemp also knows his natural advantage against the Bush brothers, who already control two big states as governor, is that he has been around the track and is a known quantity to the party faithful. If he decides to run, it will be very soon.