GOP in a tizzy over Buchanan victory

Published Feb. 22, 1996|Updated Sept. 15, 2005

Jolted by Pat Buchanan's triumph in the New Hampshire primary, Republicans around the country, including Gen. Colin Powell, on Wednesday plunged into a furious debate over how Buchanan emerged victorious and how he could be stopped.

Indeed, the struggle between the "mainstream and the extreme," as Sen. Bob Dole put it, broke out in earnest as a parade of moderate and conservative Republicans _ from members of Congress to state party leaders and from mayors to grass-roots political workers _ said they could not support Buchanan and ridiculed his positions as anathema to the party's mainstream.

Breaking his silence about the presidential contest since he announced in November that he would not run himself, Powell said Wednesday: "Pat sometimes gives out messages that are of intolerance, which I think is very unfortunate. This is not the time for intolerance. This is the time for inclusion."

In an interview on the ABC News program Prime Time Live, the retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff added, "We can't pull up our drawbridges and withdraw back into our own continent."

In a series of interviews, many Republicans who only a few weeks ago thought that Dole had the nomination cinched said Wednesday they now consider it up for grabs. Buchanan's dizzying rise, they said, has had as much to do with the appeal of his message and his own political skills as the weaknesses in the entire Republican field.

But they said they were worried that Buchanan could fracture the party _ and cripple its prospects to win back the White House _ because of his support of a protectionist trade policy and an isolationist foreign policy and what many of his detractors describe as his trail of racist remarks.

"I believe we have to make sure that Bob Dole's message of inclusion prevails," said Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, who is supporting Dole. "It's absolutely essential for the future of the Republican Party."

Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who was national chairman of Sen. Phil Gramm's aborted presidential campaign and now backs Dole, said: "I don't know if he's unacceptable. There are positions he's taken which I have strong disagreements with. But I can't say we'd not respect the primary process."

Mayor Rudolph Guiliani of New York City, who has stayed neutral in the race, put it bluntly: "We're going to do everything we can to stop Buchanan."

Former Vice President Dan Quayle complained: "There are a lot of nervous Nellies; there's a lot of hand-wringing going on. This is a wake-up call, folks. We're going to have to live with it, adjust and go on."

Quayle, who had toyed with running himself last year, lectured the Republicans who are in the race, saying they should have stuck with attacking President Clinton, not one another, and had become the victims of their own negative campaigns.

"Clinton is the ultimate opponent and he has been missing from the debate," he said. Without irony, Quayle reprised a phrase of President George Bush's: "It's called the vision thing: They have to clearly spell out and articulate what they'll do for America."

Out on the hustings, the candidates _ campaigning from South Carolina to South Dakota _ hardly heeded Quayle's warning. They went right back on the attack, with Dole and former Gov. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee calling on each other to quit the race.

Buchanan, meanwhile, relished the attention, predicting that his victory here would become "a legend in political history."

But even a Republican who sounded somewhat sympathetic to Buchanan, Rep. Ernest Jim Istook Jr. of Oklahoma, said he was worried that the party would rip itself apart over Buchanan.

"I'm concerned over the different competitors that seem to want to join in bashing Buchanan, label him an extremist or any other such term," Istook said. "I think that's a major mistake. If you do that, you're also passing on that same label to the substantial number of people who are supporting him. Are you going to say that Republican voters are extremist just because he's touched a responsive chord with them?"

Nor were many Republicans particularly confident that Dole or Alexander, who finished third in the New Hampshire primary, could stop attacking one another long enough to slow Buchanan.

One important dynamic in the coming days will be whether Republicans who oppose Buchanan rally to Dole or view him as so damaged that they turn to Alexander.

In any case, several prominent Republicans, including former Sen. Howard Baker Jr. of Tennessee, who backs Alexander, said that given Buchanan's success, the nomination fight may drag on to the national convention in August _ and result in a brokered convention. "We're tearing each other apart," he said.

Republicans are not accustomed to such intramural turmoil because the party has a tradition of rewarding its best-known establishment candidates, like Dole, with the nomination. Many Republicans said they feared a scenario in which Buchanan wins the nomination but is such a lightning rod that he leads the party to defeat in November, much like Barry Goldwater in 1964.