Sobrans - The 
Real News of the Month

The Clash of ’96

(Reprinted from The Wanderer, June 8, 1995; “Washington Watch”)

For a while it appeared there were two serious Republican presidential candidates. Bob Dole and Phil Gramm, with Lamar Alexander and maybe Pete Wilson trailing well behind but not out of the running. That was how the media portrayed the situation, anyway. What’s wrong with this picture?

The media analysis was conventional and mechanical, and this is a year when chemistry will count. Bob Dole has obvious advantages. He’s familiar, safe, and likably gruff, with a lot of old-fashioned support. But nobody really loves him, by which I mean he wouldn’t be anyone’s first choice. He still has to be rated the front-runner, but like George Bush in 1992, he commands no deep loyalty and is highly vulnerable to an upset. And the country is hungry for something he can neither offer nor imagine. He is too imbedded in the old politics we are all tired of.

Phil Gramm is on the skids. He knows the country wants to move rightward, and he is happy to oblige. His campaign began as a big production with lots of rich backers and professional cheerleaders. But nobody loves him either, and nearly everyone distrusts him. He sent out a broad wink to the liberal media that though he’s nominally pro-life, he doesn’t intend to do anything about abortion as president. Unfortunately for him, the Christian right intercepted this signal, and he tried too late to recover by overstating his opposition to abortion. It didn’t help him that he’d invested $7,500 in a soft-porn movie years ago. In fact it was many years ago — 1974 — and he might have said he was sorry and let it go at that, but he fogged the issue up in such a way that the incident no longer seemed remote: it seemed all too much in character somehow. The man radiates something unpleasant; insincerity is part of the odor.

Lamar Alexander has raised a lot of money too. He’s learned to play a repertoire of conservative themes lately, and he has a good line of patter. But he’s pro-abortion, much as he tries to mute it now, and he can’t get the Republican nomination without driving the core of the party away. The same is true of Pete Wilson. Both men might have had a chance in 1976. Not now.

The remarkable thing about this field is that none of the media-anointed Big Four appeals strongly to conservatives at a time when the nation’s mood is more conservative than ever. But now a fifth candidate is suddenly getting media attention. Newsweek and The New York Times, among others, have realized that Pat Buchanan is serious.

Buchanan has cleaned Gramm’s clock in a few informal head-to-head contests. He is a terrific debater who can make his points in a low-key, civil, but powerful manner, as witness his recent performance on Meet the Press. Pro-lifers, gun owners, tax-weary voters, rank-and-file conservatives, and Perotistas trust him; his message has never varied, even under fierce pressure. This allows him to score heavily off Dole and Gramm, whose long voting records contradict their campaign speeches and expose them as “leap-year conservatives.”

I’ve always liked and admired Pat, but at first I doubted that he could make a strong running this year. I assumed that he’d shot his wad in 1992 and this year’s monied competition would engulf him. But he has become a brilliant campaigner with a real vision (even though I don’t share all of it) and he is aggressively shaping the terms of debate in such a way as to embarrass his rivals. Dole may be far ahead now, but if Gramm falls away and Buchanan is the only true pro-life conservative, Dole will be in trouble.

Unlike Dole, Buchanan understands what is happening in politics. In fact, he has understood it even better than the smarter people in Republican and conservative circles. The end of the Cold War has changed everything. Americans are worried about their own country now; they don’t want needless foreign adventures and entanglements when they have a strong sense that the United States is going to hell in many senses, not all of them figurative. Many if not most are convinced that the federal government has aggravated and even created the conditions they hate.

Even Reaganism is passé. The Catholics and evangelical Protestants who came into the Republican Party to vote for Reagan are ready to walk out again; some already have. Buchanan understands that the party must hold these people and bring in the Perot voters. It’s a fluid historical moment, and it calls for realignment.

But a realignment in the party system would also mean a realignment within the Republican Party. The Bush Republicans would be demoted; the internationalists and interventionists would have to be abandoned. The old conservatives and especially the neoconservatives would naturally dislike the new populist, nationalist, isolationist recruits who would threaten to displace them and take the party in a different direction. For this reason, the GOP’s old guard will try to stop Buchanan even if it means re-electing Bill Clinton, just as the Rockefeller wing threw its support to Lyndon Johnson in 1964 in order to stop the Goldwater movement.

At this point it’s hard to forsee the outcome. A new third party? Buchanan himself has mentioned the possibility. If the Republican ticket dosen’t include him or someone equally acceptable to heartland conservatives, the demand will be there. And as I keep saying, Howard Phillips’s U.S. Taxpayers’ Party could serve the country splendidly, if only by keeping the vital principles politically alive and robbing a moderate-ruled Republican Party of its margin of victory.

Joseph Sobran

• Return to the Home page.

FGF E-Package columns by Joe Sobran, Sam Francis, Paul Gottfried, and others are available in a special e-mail subscription provided by the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. Click here for more information.

Search This Site

Search the Web     Search SOBRANS

What’s New?

Articles and Columns by Joe Sobran
 FGF E-Package “Reactionary Utopian” Columns 
  Wanderer column (“Washington Watch”) 
 Essays and Articles | Biography of Joe Sobran | Sobran’s Cynosure 
 The Shakespeare Library | The Hive
 WebLinks | Books by Joe 
 Subscribe to Joe Sobran’s Columns 

Other FGF E-Package Columns and Articles
 Sam Francis Classics | Paul Gottfried, “The Ornery Observer” 
 Mark Wegierski, “View from the North” 
 Chilton Williamson Jr., “At a Distance” 
 Kevin Lamb, “Lamb amongst Wolves” 
 Subscribe to the FGF E-Package 

Products and Gift Ideas
Back to the home page 

Reprinted with permission
Copyright © 1996, 1999 by The Vere Company