Magazine article Insight on the News

Republican Revolution Begins to Eat Its Own

Magazine article Insight on the News

Republican Revolution Begins to Eat Its Own

Article excerpt

The tumultuous primary season has left many wondering if the much-heralded GOP "revolution" of 1994 might be proving the truth of the axiom that revolutions eat their own. The insurgent campaigns of Patrick Buchanan and Steve Forbes have left the Republican establishment shaken -- and may have undermined GOP prospects for the fall.

This hectic primary season has turned into "the worst possible time for the Republicans," says Emory University political scientist Merle Black, "because they're advertising all their differences rather than what their common message might be against the Democrats." This time of discontent has revealed itself in polls showing President Clinton with sizable leads over all his potential rivals.

Amid the political bloodletting, GOP campaigners profess not to be worried. "Clinton is ahead in all the polls just as Jimmy Carter was ahead in all the polls when Ronald Reagan was moving through the primary days being called what Pat Buchanan is being called," says Bay Buchanan, her brother's campaign chairwoman. "No, we're not concerned with those polls."

Still, Republicans one step removed from the campaign barricades find the numbers disconcerting. After all, only a year ago, the president had been reduced to proclaiming publicly that he was still "relevant." Now the slings and arrows of an outrageous primary season -- which began with Forbes opening the floodgates of negative advertising in Iowa -- has left many Republicans nervously wondering about the stability of their congressional majority.

The concerns of nervous officeholders are understandable. Their first instinct is electoral survival and their chief concern is whether the nominee will help them achieve reelection. Black, an expert on Dixie politics, notes that GOP congressional candidates in the South -- widely regarded as fertile Republican ground -- could be jeopardized by a wounded and unpopular nominee.

If Dole is nominated, "I don't think they'd be hurt terribly by what has been going on," Black tells Insight. "If Buchanan were the nominee, I think it would really hurt their congressional prospects. I think they'd lose a lot of supporters and a lot of Republicans would either have to distance themselves from Buchanan or run with him, and I think Buchanan would be a very weak general-election candidate in the South, as elsewhere."

In the weeks between Buchanan's New Hampshire victory and his loss to Dole in South Carolina, prominent conservatives shuddered publicly at the thought of Buchanan sansculottes scaling the ramparts. The years since Reagan took office have seen the growth of a conservative nomenklatura staffing a vast network of political-action committees, think tanks, foundations, publications and congressional offices. These people, for whom conservatism is daily livelihood as well as political philosophy, have found the Buchanan insurgency particularly unsettling.

Buchanan himself seems to relish this, punctuating his campaign stump speeches with salvos at the "lords and barons" of Washington who have retreated into the castle only steps ahead of "peasants with pitchforks." He has defied GOP orthodoxy by denouncing corporate greed, referring to Bob Dole as "bell-hop for the Business Roundtable." For their part, the soi-disant nobility of Washington conservatism have engaged in similar misbehavior. Former Education Secretary Bill Bennett, cochairman of former Education Secretary Lamar Alexander's campaign, reiterated three days before the South Carolina primary that a Buchanan nomination would guarantee a third party of disaffected Republicans. Weekly Standard publisher Bill Kristol told the Washington Post that "someone needs to stand up and defend the Establishment... After all, we conservatives are on the side of the lords and barons."

Ah, but will the peasantry return to the yoke and the thatch? The Buchanan campaign is not exactly trembling. "The last I looked, Bill Bennett doesn't have a great following," Bay Buchanan tells Insight. …

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