By Ken Rudin
Question: If Pat Buchanan winds up as the nominee of the Reform Party, how much support will he take from Gov. George W. Bush, if he is the GOP nominee? Could 2000 be just like 1992 when Ross Perot pulled enough from President Bush to help get Bill Clinton elected?
Answer: There are so many uncertainties here. To begin with, Buchanan may not bolt the GOP, and even if he does, there is no guarantee he will be the Reform Party nominee. While his call for economic nationalism is popular in the Party that Ross Built, his anti-abortion and anti-immigration themes are not. The party also is in the midst of a tug-of-war between forces led by Perot, who shares Buchanan's views on trade but whose hold on the Reformers is suspect, and Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, the nation's only elected Reform Party success story, who has pointedly lacked enthusiasm for Buchanan running under his party's banner.
But let's assume Buchanan gets the Reform nod. According to conventional wisdom, Buchanan's votes come from Bush. Buchanan's supporters, most of whom still share his cultural war cry, currently reside in the Grand Old Party. The argument that Buchanan pulls equally from the Dems because of his hostility toward NAFTA and concern for the working class seems a bit of a stretch, given his long and controversial paper trail on topics like abortion, homosexuality, Mexicans, Jews, sexual behavior, class warfare, etc. For the record, a Pew poll out this week indicates that in a three-way race between Buchanan, Republican Bush and Democrat Al Gore, Buchanan would pull from both major parties. We'll see.
As for the comparison to 1992, though many Republicans still claim that Perot cost President Bush the White House, polls show that the Texas billionaire pulled equally from Democrats and Republicans. He did get nearly 20 percent of the vote, but he also spent tens of millions of dollars of his own money. Now Buchanan may prove, as Jesse Jackson did, that he doesn't need a fat wallet to run for president. But the economy was in tatters in '92 when Perot did so well. That is not the case today, which might keep Pitchfork Pat from making a significant difference.
Question: Who do you believe will emerge as the conservative alternative to Bush in the GOP field? There is no way that Gary Bauer, Pat Buchanan, Steve Forbes, Alan Keyes and Dan Quayle will all survive. Craig Smith, Eau Claire, Wis.
If the social conservatives decide to unite behind one horse this time, it could be Forbes. He seems to have the financial and organizational wherewithal to stay in the race for the long haul, although he has yet to make a mark in the polls. Some see his focus on social issues, which was noticeably absent in 1996, as a ploy to gain favor with Christian conservatives. But others appreciate the attention, comparing it with Bush's proclamation that he will apply no litmus test (read: abortion) when it comes to appointing Supreme Court justices.
As for the others, Bauer's fourth-place showing in last month's Iowa straw poll was thought to be a shot in the arm for his campaign. But there has been scant evidence of any follow through, and just this week his national chairman defected to Forbes. Buchanan, who had the right-wing stage all to himself in 1992 and won the New Hampshire primary in 1996, has lost much of his support this time out. He is widely expected to bolt the GOP and seek the Reform Party nomination (see above) an odd marriage to be sure, but one that presents problems for Republican chances of recapturing the White House. Keyes is gifted with a mesmerizing speaking style and a fervent core of supporters, but little else.
As for Quayle, he has one of the best résumés of anyone ever to seek the nomination service as a congressman, senator and vice president. But his image as a figure of ridicule has stuck since his unsteady first hours as the GOP running mate of former President George Bush, the father of the current front-runner, in 1988. Quayle finished an abysmal eighth in the August Iowa straw poll but adamantly insists he's in the race to stay. It is hard to see how he can manage that feat, given that his fund-raising has dried up and his key supporters have defected to other candidates.
Question: Speaking of "stunned Republicans" regarding the decision by New Jersey Gov. Christie Whitman to skip a race for an open Senate seat [see Sept. 10 column], even more Republicans will be stunned when Bush names her as his choice for vice president. Alexander Van Arsdale
Answer: That's some scenario, but don't bet the ranch on it. Bush is in a quandary. In trying to run a general-election campaign before he has even won the Republican nomination, he has taken somewhat pragmatic positions. But he also knows that if he so alienates his right flank that the defections of Pat Buchanan and Bob Smith are just the tip of the iceberg, he's in big trouble. So I suspect that naming Whitman as his running mate would not necessarily be smart. She is not only pro-choice, she is in-your-face pro-choice. And the booing Nelson Rockefeller faced at the 1964 Republican convention would seem like a tea party compared to what naming Whitman would be like next summer in Philadelphia.
Question: I read your online column every week and enjoy it thoroughly. I am especially tickled by the members of your readership that write in to split hairs over the answers you give to arcane political questions that come your way. In that spirit, I add my own refinements to your answer about James Garfield in your Sept. 10 effort. While it is true that Garfield was the only man to move directly from the House to the White One, Garfield was actually senator-elect from Ohio when nominated by the Republicans for president. Although it did not work out this way, Garfield could have been representative, senator and president, all in the same year. Randy H. Rice, Alpharetta, Ga.
Answer: You're right, the future looked limitless to Garfield in 1880. On Jan. 13 of that year, the Ohio legislature elected Congressman Garfield to the U.S. Senate, though his term was not set to begin until March 1881. A member of the House and a senator-elect, his role at the 1880 Republican convention in Chicago was to nominate Ohio Sen. John Sherman for the presidency. But Garfield was as surprised as any when he not Sherman or GOP front-runner Ulysses Grant won the nomination, on the 36th ballot (see June 18 column on dark-horse presidential candidates). A narrow winner that fall, Garfield's tenure was brief. After just 120 days in office, he was walking in a Washington train station when a religious fanatic by the name of Charles Guiteau shot him in the back. In the 80 days he lingered until his death, he was transformed into a popular hero. According to reports at the time, there was more outpouring of grief following his death than that of President Lincoln 16 years earlier.
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© Copyright 1999 Ken Rudin