Republican dogfight opens door for Clinton

When the results came in from New Hampshire, you can bet some of the loudest cheers came from inside the White House. Pat Buchanan, a purveyor of fiery, often-extreme rhetoric, narrowly beat out Republican mainstay Bob Dole and former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander in the closest Granite State primary since 1976. Meanwhile, Steve “Flat Tax” Forbes finished a distant fourth.
But our guess is that while the planks of Buchanan’s campaign platform may carry him to the Republican nomination in August, they’ll be too shaky to support a run at the White House. “Stand up for what you believe” may work well in New Hampshire, but Washington is a different story.
Call us cynical. Call us liberal. Call us what you will. We just have a hard time believing the nation will accept Buchanan’s extremist leanings on trade, immigration, the United Nations, foreign policy and abortion. It’s true that Buchanan is steadfast in his beliefs, not wavering from his convictions based on poll percentages. That stability is noble. But those beliefs will prove his undoing.
There is no clear-cut, there-for-the-taking, leading candidate out there. That, perhaps more than anything, will likely tear apart the Republican party. Buchanan’s “shaking in their boots” oratory may apply to Bob Dole, in his third run for the GOP nomination and hungry for a victory, but not Bill Clinton. We doubt the president will be calling U-Haul anytime soon.
Granted, Clinton’s popularity ratings are low, and may well remain that way until the election rolls around. But it’s more likely the Republican convention will be a tag-team battle, and whoever survives, bruised and bloodied, will struggle against the incumbent. The lack of a viable candidate will bring a halt — or at least a bad case of constipation — to the Republican revolution.
So while Clinton sits comfortably in the Oval Office, Buchanan, Dole, Alexander and, to a lesser extent, Forbes are busy beating on one another. Dole says his extensive experience has prepared him for the presidency. Buchanan derides his fellow candidates for their lack of conviction. Alexander tries to find the happy medium and Forbes, in his own glassy-eyed way, chants his flat tax mantra before the waning masses. Welcome to Campaign ’96: the road to Mudville.
It’s difficult to call the Clinton presidency an unqualified success at this point. But remember: He was able to deliver on many campaign promises, only to have them rolled back by the logjam-happy Republican majority. Likewise, the quest for a balanced budget has left the nation with no budget at all. Clinton is not all to blame for the political snafus during his administration but is only a cog in a machine in need of a tuneup.
Will the repair come under Clinton’s watch? It’s too early to tell. But as the campaign (and Republican head-bashing) rolls on, we believe one thing will become clear: None of the presidential wanna-bes seem cut out for the job. While they all try to distance themselves from one another, the fact is the Republican candidates are all pieces of the same apple pie gone sour.