In one of its most direct efforts to undermine Patrick Buchanan's insurgency, the White House on Friday dispatched Vice President Dan Quayle to warn Republican conservatives that if they work against President Bush they "risk being out of power for a generation."
Quayle argued that although the president was not "100 percent" conservative, to repudiate him would risk turning the Cabinet over to liberals and advocates of abortion. The vice president used the same weapon to paint a Republican nightmare of a "national condom-distribution campaign for grades seven and up."
As the 1992 campaign shapes up not only as a test of Bush but also of who will lead the conservatives in 1996, Quayle put in a pitch for himself. In a speech prepared for delivery to the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday night, he said re-electing the president would be preparation for another conservative victory in 1996, presumably with Quayle at the head of the ticket.
Quayle did not promise any changes in what conservatives believe are Bush's moderate policies. He instead offered this pragmatic appeal: Buchanan cannot win, and backing him would hurt the party.
"The only real question facing us today is whether our president will enter the general election campaign from a position of strength or from a position of weakness," Quayle said.
He added: "Anyone has the right to wage a symbolic campaign. But it would be irresponsible to endanger all that we have achieved."
The vice president did not mention Buchanan by name.
Buchanan, Bush in same town: President Bush and conservative challenger Patrick Buchanan dueled for advantage Friday in the South, with Bush winning loud cheers from a mainstream Republican gathering in Charleston, S.C..
Buchanan got no closer than a hotel across the street from where Bush spoke. Claiming he was frozen out of the GOP meeting by South Carolina Gov. Carroll Campbell, the host and Bush's state chairman, Buchanan said, "This idea of dismissing Pat Buchanan is not legitimate.
"We decided we would just come anyway and crash the party," Buchanan said in a news conference at the hotel across the street.
Campbell denied the charge.
Bush did not directly mention Buchanan in a speech to the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, but he took veiled swipes at his opponent, who scored a strong second-place finish in this week's New Hampshire primary.
"The next five years of American history are just too important to entrust to the inexperienced," Bush told GOP officials and lawmakers at the conference.