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While Bush Administration officials and the members of the Republican Establishment downplay the chances of Pat Buchanan in New Hampshire and beyond, GOP primary voters may feel something quite different.

Many in the Bush camp are likening Buchanan to John Ashbrook, saying that, like Ashbrook against Richard Nixon in 1972, Buchanan will go nowhere against Bush. This analogy is wrong and dangerous for Bush because it downplays Buchanan’s chances. If Buchanan exceeds low expectations, he will have done “better than expected.” In politics, perception is reality. Perceptions drive money, volunteers and the type of media your campaign gets.

But more to the point, the analogy is incorrect because Ashbrook was a relatively unknown Ohio congressman. Buchanan has tremendous visibility and recognition among voters.

Furthermore, Nixon had a longstanding relationship with the Republican right, going back to his personal campaign against Alger Hiss. Nixon was chosen as Dwight Eisenhower’s running mate precisely because Ike recognized that he needed to reach out to conservatives.

In 1968, Nixon ran for President as a conservative. And though some conservatives felt betrayed by President Nixon and then by President Ronald Reagan, no conservative primary challenger to either stood a chance because both had longstanding relations with the GOP right. Bush quite simply does not possess the personal relationship with conservative voters that Nixon and Reagan did.

Second, the analogy lacks credibility in terms of the power and the capabilities of the state parties. In 1972, GOP state parties were active, vital organizations that could muster support for Nixon. Today, most state parties are relatively weak and frequently in debt, which affects their ability to turn out volunteers and voters.

Third, in 1972 there was no Federal Election Commission imposing limits on what presidential campaigns could spend. Nixon could spend whatever he needed to “blow away” Ashbrook. Now, everybody must operate under the same limits if they want matching funds from the FEC.

Yet most people in politics know that money is not everything. Voters must be motivated to vote. As the November elections proved, Harris Wofford could be outspent by Richard Thornburgh by $2 million in Pennsylvania’s Senate race and still win. Why? Because voters are motivated by issues. Where a candidate stands on the issues matters.

In New Jersey, GOP candidates for the state Legislature were outspent, collectively, by $2 million by their Democratic counterparts, and yet the Legislature went from being Democratic to overwhelmingly Republican. Republicans opposed the massive tax increase engineered by Democratic Gov. Jim Florio and effectively communicated to voters that the Democratic legislators supported higher taxes.

Thus, if Bush is to squelch the Buchanan challenge, he must first recognize its serious nature and then come up with winning ideas and issues.

In addition, Bush should come to terms with the 1990 budget agreement. Rather than defending it, he should admit that he was wrong, apologize and never let it happen again.

Campaign advisers will vehemently disagree with this, but consider the following: In recent memory, one cannot recall more elected executives going down to defeat precisely because they said that they wouldn’t raise taxes and then either did so or appeared to do so. Margaret Thatcher, Kay Orr, Jim Blanchard, Bob Martinez and others were driven from office because they opened up character questions about themselves; they altered their position on taxes or appeared to do so. It’s better for Bush to deal with it now and frame the terms of the debate.

As for the “vision thing,” the single unique quality of America and our culture is that we believe in the future. Reagan’s greatest contribution to America was revitalizing our hope for the future. But hope stems from opportunity and opportunity stems from economics, which means that Bush should embrace a real and meaningful tax cut now.

Bush will defeat Buchanan, but he should also recognize that Buchanan’s challenge is meaningful. Those same people who worked passionately for Reagan and then Bush are the very same people who are now taking a close look at Buchanan. Bush can keep the GOP right. But he first must recognize that it’s worth fighting for.


TYPE: Opinion

Copyright 1991 The Times Mirror Company; Los Angeles Times

 All Rights Reserved


If one listens to the left, Robert Bork’s name has come to symbolize political action. “Borking” has passed into their political lexicon but in terms of the 1992 election, it could also come to be seen as Bork’s Revenge.

Clarence Thomas is now a member of the United States Supreme Court. Though he was damaged publicly and privately, he’s made of sterner stuff and will ultimately survive.

He convinced a majority of the American people and the U.S. Senate that he was treated unfairly by Anita Hill, the dominant fringe groups on the left and the Senate staff whose leak catapulted what the Senate Judiciary Committee deemed a “non-issue,” into the public arena for debate.

GIVEN HIS background, I suspect this good and decent man will handle this tragi-comic affair with the same grace and class with which he has handled other obstacles in his life.

On the other hand, grace and class is not how the Republicans should conduct their campaigns in 1992. In short, the GOP can “Bork” the liberals, in part by using the Clarence Thomas issue.

Blacks supported Thomas in astounding numbers according to most polls. This is, in part, due to Thomas’ charge that an “uppity black” who deigned to speak and think for himself would be lynched by the liberal establishment.

But the media and the liberals obviously, “just don’t get it.” What Thomas meant, quite simply, is that liberals expect blacks to stay on their ideological plantation and never question the Democrats’ failed social experiments that have led to a downward spiral in the quality of life for black Americans.

THOMAS QUESTIONS the programs, the success and, yes, the motives. The plight of black Americans is, by all accounts, worse than it was 25 years ago when Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty, because, guess what — poverty won.

Billions of dollars later, more black children are born out of wedlock, fewer stay in school, and thus, more are trapped in the grinding malaise of poverty. The liberal establishment’s answer to their failed programs is ever bigger government and more money.

And the black “leadership” on the liberal plantation understand that they must toe the line if they want to keep getting money and power. But more and more blacks motivated by courage, not greed, are stepping forward like Clarence Thomas.

AS FAR AS white liberals are concerned, blacks should hold only one politically correct view of the world. And in this belief, white liberals expose themselves as the true racists.

Thomas’ charge of racism is on target because liberals genuinely see the black community as monolithic, rather than as it is, characterized by people on the left and right, as well as a significant portion (like whites) who are open minded. Republicans should understand that among black Americans there is a seething and growing resentment to what they see as plantation politics.

Not so astonishingly, the bulk of Thomas’ support among blacks came from those occupying the lower end of the economic scale, not middle or upper middle class blacks. Blacks want to be treated as individuals . . . not a terribly surprising concept, except to Ted Kennedy, Howard Metzenbaum, and the radical elements who tried to destroy Thomas through a campaign of leaks and lies.

THE GOP can capitalize on this growing resentment and, yes, this attempted “high tech lynching of an uppity black.” The message Republicans should project now and through 1992 is, on Election Day, don’t forget it was liberal Democrats who attempted to lynch a good and decent black man.

If you want to be treated as if you live on a plantation, if individuality and self-respect mean nothing to you, vote Democratic. But if you’re sick and tired of being treated as a second class citizen, if you’re sick and tired of being told that you’re a victim instead of being given an opportunity to take charge of your life, if you’re sick and tired of being taken for granted by the white liberals, then vote Republican.

Obviously, this message alone cannot suffice. The GOP must also emphasize positive and practical alternatives for black Americans, in the form of economic, political and cultural electives as opposed to redistribution politics. Republicans must work for empowerment by pushing the idea of enterprise zones, rewarding families that stay together with tax breaks, and providing an incentive to leave the welfare trap. Such a message can make blacks walk away from the liberal plantation.

Editor’s Note: Craig Shirley, a former Syracusan, is a Washington, D.C. GOP consultant.

LOAD-DATE: February 12, 2003


Copyright 1991 Post-Standard, All Rights Reserved.