Scrambled Political Picture
Jude Wanniski
September 28, 1999


Patricia and I returned from our total-escape, 12-day vacation in Ireland on Sunday night (I did not contact my office, did not watch CNN, and on only a few days did I read the Irish Times.) When I turned on the TV set at my Morristown home, it was to find out who won the Ryder Cup. The first image was of Dan Quayle, with an announcement that he was dropping out of the race for the GOP nomination. It was a shock, because one of the reasons I needed a total escape was I had burned out during the previous seven months encouraging his candidacy -- believing he was the best man in the field. In advance of Ireland, the Quayle folks had summoned me to the Phoenix headquarters to explain again how he would win, against all odds, once the electorate began to seriously examine the field and see in him what I saw. Nothing really counted until Labor Day, I insisted, including the silly Iowa straw poll in August where he placed eighth. I also explained that he did not have to have money to win the nomination and the presidency, beyond the minimal costs of paying for travel expenses and his small staff. By continuing to develop the themes on which we had worked -- reform, reconciliation, and national renewal -- he would take the lead in a national conversation about the nation's and the world's future. George W. Bush might have $100 million, but the more of it he spent on his message, the more ground he would lose.

The only real weakness I told Quayle -- going back to January when he learned Jack Kemp would not run, and had called me to help him devise a winning strategy-- was that he did not have a strategist on his own staff. While I was off in Ireland, his team decided to pull the plug, on the grounds that they could no longer imagine a path to victory. What a shock it must have been to Quayle to learn, after he made the decision to drop out, the first serious post-Labor Day poll showed that he had climbed in the month since the Iowa straw poll to second place from eighth behind Bush -- with 9% of the vote. While I was gone, he had been bluffed out of the campaign. On CNN's "Crossfire" last night, you already could see on his face the realization that he had blundered -- folding his hand before a single real vote had been cast. Oh well, it is best that we learn in the campaign itself how easy it is to be the best candidate in the field, except for a weakness for being bluffed by an opponent. I'd told Quayle from the beginning that he was the one candidate the Establishment really feared, which is why it went to such trouble to insist he could not possibly win, even as it insisted George W could not be beaten.

Sans Dan, what do we have left in this scrambled field? My early assessment is that with the almost certain departure of Pat Buchanan for the Reform Party, whose nomination he easily would win with Ross Perot's support, the most likely winner next November would be former New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley -- the anti-establishment candidate in the Democratic Party. This is because New York Senator Pat Moynihan, who endorsed Bradley last Thursday, almost certainly is right in his judgement that Vice President Al Gore cannot win. All the talk about "Clinton fatigue" by way of explaining Gore's miserable standing in the polls is nonsense. If Clinton could run for a third term, he would easily win in a three-way race with Bush and Buchanan. Gore's weakness is that he is a manic-Malthusian, who represents the anti-growth wing of his Party. Only liberal masochists can generate any real enthusiasm for him. A year ago, in his Senate office, I tried to get New Jersey Senator Bob Torricelli -- the leader of the growth wing of the Democratic Party -- to see that he needs only to throw his hat in the ring and he could beat out Gore. It seemed too implausible to him then, and I can assure you he now must be kicking himself as he watches Bradley developing a momentum that only could be stalled if he allows himself to be bluffed. Bradley's decision a month ago to attend the Harlem Town Meeting chaired by the Rev. Al Sharpton was a brilliant move, roundly denounced by the Democratic Establishment. His decision to support Clinton's clemency to the Puerto Rican FALN prisoners also was brilliant, but he then blundered by reversing himself when the wind shifted. Once the prisoners had renounced a return to political terrorism, the clemency was correct on its merits. The Gore camp reportedly was gleeful that Bradley had flip-flopped. It is in fact an indication of the weakness of his strategic team. He has to become more of an agent of change, more reform-oriented, but will be pulled in the opposite direction as he gains ground for being independent.

Quayle's departure leaves a gaggle of non-entities in the field, including the late entry of Arizona Sen. John McCain, who has nothing to say. Elizabeth Dole, who increasingly sounds like Bob, is rapidly losing what little traction she had. Steve Forbes -- who at least comes out of the growth wing of the GOP -- should be the beneficiary of Quayle's departure. Like Quayle, though, his weakness remains the absence of creative strategic thinking in his campaign. He should have years ago fired his totally incompetent campaign manager, Bill Dal Col, who supplies the mean streak absent in Forbes himself. The reports that Forbes has been getting enthusiastic audiences in his bus tours is quickly offset by his criticism of Bush for attending the Ryder Cup with his father this the weekend instead of showing up for a Boston cattle show.

Which leaves us with Buchanan and the Reform Party. I've been a political friend and admirer of Pat for almost 30 years, when I was with the National Observer and he was a speechwriter for Richard Nixon. We're both Catholics of the same vintage, both editorial writers at heart, both wholly unsuited to playing the kind of politics that requires you to say things you don't believe, or at least cleverly trim. Prior to his 1992 run for the presidency, which I cheered while knowing it was quixotic, there was scarcely an issue of foreign or domestic policy on which we disagreed. In 1992, Pat was transformed into an economic nationalist, a position with which I sympathized, because I saw he was identifying with the plight of ordinary Americans whose real wages had collapsed. The Establishment of both parties had fused into the idea that American capital should be exported to the rest of the world and cheap labor imported. His diagnosis was exactly correct, but his prescription was to block some of the cross-border trade and immigration to allow higher wages here. My prescription has been to raise the capital/labor ratio at home using tax and monetary reforms and to export growth ideas to low-wage countries so their desperate populations have no need to migrate.

Buchanan's new book, A Republic, Not an Empire, predictably has gotten him into trouble again with the Jewish Lobby, which insists he is anti-Semitic because he correctly lists it as the most powerful of all the lobbies in Washington, and takes issue with parts of its political agenda. So do I, but I'm not running for President. The only fundamental flaw in the book is in his replaying of history to blame U.S. involvement in World War II on Franklin Roosevelt, a Democrat, where I blame Herbert Hoover's economic nationalism and the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act for the Great Depression, the rise of Hitler and Tojo, and WWII. The Establishment, which does not like to admit it makes mistakes, does not like my thesis or Buchanan's. My point: The more he pushes his thesis, the less a threat he will be as the Reform Party nominee. After winning the New Hampshire primary in 1996, he moved the wrong way with his pitchfork. The more he amends his own views in a few areas, the greater the possibility that he will be a major factor in the 2000 race, most likely giving Bill Bradley the Oval Office.