Political Buyout: Dole and the Christian Coalition

Article excerpt

THINK OF BOB DOLE as a corporation rather than a political candidate. On Super Tuesday Bob Dole, Inc., secured the Republican nomination for president, and now needs to engage in a leveraged buyout (LBO, as it is called in the world of finance) of another highly successful political enterprise known as the Christian Coalition. Without this acquisition, Bill Clinton remains well positioned for re-election. With the acquisition of the Christian Coalition, and the aggressive, issue-oriented workers and voters that come with it, Clinton can be defeated.

There is evidence that Dole has already begun working on the buyout. In the critical South Carolina caucus, Ralph Reed of the Christian Coalition quietly passed the word that it was time to stop playing with Pat Buchanan and get practical with Dole. With his victory in South Carolina, Dole halted the momentum that Buchanan gained with his win in New Hampshire. Between now and the Republican convention in San Diego in July, Dole must conclude the buyout of the Christian Coalition. Without the coalition solidly a part of his team, Dole is vulnerable to the kind of emotional right-wing takeover of the Republican convention that doomed George Bush's re-election chances in 1992.

According to a textbook on the topic, "An LBO involves leveraging (borrowing) from a financing source to acquire the target company. The proceeds are used to pay the seller." Where does Dole find the "funds" to convince Ralph Reed and Pat Robertson that it is in their interest to sell to Dole, Inc.? The coalition is a much stronger political player than its predecessor, the Moral Majority, and Reed and Robertson much more savvy than Jerry Falwell. They know that a cautious compromise may be essential for victory in November. Dole's antiabortion stance is not nearly as solid as Buchanan's, but since Buchanan cannot win the nomination, Reed reasoned that his troops should not waste their votes on Buchanan. His maneuver in South Carolina led political columnist and TV panelist Eleanor Clift to observe that "Bob Dole owes Ralph Reed, big time."

Dole has a few sources of leverage. One is the Republican Party platform, which has long had a plank calling for a near-total ban on abortion. For Reed and Robertson to be able to enter into an LBO with Dole, they must be able to guarantee to their stockholders that the antiabortion stance will not be significantly altered. They know that debate about the abortion plank will make for a one-day story out of the San Diego convention, and are probably willing to make some adjustments in the plank to satisfy some moderates.

That would once have been sufficient to secure the Christian Coalition's enthusiastic support, but no longer. The coalition can now demand control over the vice-presidential nominee the way liberal groups have held veto power in the Democratic Party. Since John Kennedy picked Texas Senator Lyndon Johnson in 1960, no Democratic vice-president nominee has been named without the approval of environmentalists, or women, or labor, or Jesse Jackson (or, in an earlier generation, antiwar activists). Southerners like Sam Nunn (in 1992), for example, were never serious contenders for the vice-presidency, because they did not meet the litmus tests of the Democratic Party's special-interest groups. …