FOR REPUBLICANS, it was a night to remember, and to build on. With each passing hour on election night 1980, the returns added new dimensions to their triumph. Not only had Ronald Reagan won the White House, but his party had seized control of the Senate, long a citadel of Democratic power. The victory was all the sweeter because it followed by only a few years the devastation of Watergate, which had called into question the very survival of the Grand Old Party. Suddenly, the door of opportunity was open for Republicans and for a fair number of Democrats who shared the faith in Reagan's conservative creed. But for no one was the vista brighter than for Bob Dole, Phil Gramm, Lamar Alexander, and Patrick J. Buchanan, men who, fifteen years later, would emerge as the dominant figures in the early stages of the 1996 campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.
As rich a prize as that nomination was, even more was at stake in the competition among these four than the chance to lead the Republicans into battle against Bill Clinton. By exploiting the opportunities the Reagan era had created, each in his own way would help to chart the direction of the Republican party over the next decade and half -- and each had come to represent one of the principal tributaries of Republican belief. In the course of the struggle for the presidency, each man would also contend for the opportunity to redefine the party in keeping with the distinctive political identity he himself had established over the years since the Reagan era dawned.
Using his Senate leadership posts as stepping-stones, Bob Dole would become the chief tribune for Midwestern Republicanism, the stolid but enduring faith in a marriage of convenience between the rewards of the free market and the obligations of government. By contrast, erstwhile Democrat Gramm, who transferred his partisan allegiance to the GOP soon after Reagan's ascension, became his new party's most aggressive apostle of the take