The coup de farce intended to topple Speaker Newt, in which faithful lieutenants betrayed him, only to re-embrace their beloved leader, had the makings of a Broadway comedy.
Unfortunately, the farce is also a tragedy. A great party, for whose principles good people have worked their whole lives, has been abused by those accorded its highest honors. The House leaders have done what Bill Clinton could not do. They have made the party of Ronald Reagan look ridiculous.
Republicans are already trying to put the debacle behind them, which is the tradition. Rank-and-file Republicans are stand-by-your-man, union-shop people. They close ranks about the fallen.
But loyalty to this cast of characters seems incompatible with loyalty to the institution. What does this crowd truly stand for anymore, other than a tax cut so timid that Bill Clinton will not stuff it down their gullets as a "giveaway to the rich"?
This party crisis is going to endure because it is about more than the erratic and unbuttoned behavior of Newt.
The Republican Party is today in a crisis of the soul, unable to decide who and what it is. Is it to be a populist, conservative, traditionalist, fighting party — an exciting, perilous but ultimately promising journey? Or does it wish to be an uncontroversial collaborator of Bill Clinton?
The bizarre behavior of Newt betrays the schizophrenia of a leadership that seeks irreconcilable things: the loyalty and love of true believers, and the approbation of big media.
But it cannot have both.
This battle within the GOP is certain to intensify until one side prevails or departs. Consider the foreign policy issues upcoming: granting Clinton "fast track" authority to expand the North American Free Trade Agreement, extending the U.S. troop presence in Bosnia and expanding NATO to the borders of Russia. Populists and nationalists oppose all three. Yet, rely on it, the Beltway Republicans will again be found around the Clinton campfire. This recurring collaboration with Clinton is tearing the party apart. On the House vote to appease Beijing by renewing a trade status that gave China $40 billion last year, social conservatives and populists locked arms — as the GOP colluded in Clinton’s triumph. According to The Weekly Standard, Jack Kemp distributed a letter to the Senate opposing restrictions on the sale of super-computers to Beijing, some of which reportedly have been diverted to perfecting a Chinese missile designed to hit Kemp’s home state of California. Does that "Empower America" or the strategic rocket forces of Communist China?
On immigration, four out of five voters want a "time out" to assimilate the 30 million people who have come since 1965. The GOP balks. "Could hurt us with Hispanic voters," it says. Meanwhile, Clinton enlarges the Border Patrol and builds the San Diego fence. On affirmative action, the GOP leadership, cowed by civil rights militants, will not fight for equal justice under the law, though a majority of Americans want all discrimination ended now.
In the provinces, the party remains full of fight. It is unafraid of defeat and knows what it believes. Unfortunately, it is afflicted with a leadership more concerned with press clips and power than with policy and principles. To watch the GOP Congress vote Clinton an extra $1 billion in foreign aid recently raises a question as to whether the party is now operating on autopilot.
Ever since the White House routed Congress on the shutdown of the government, the GOP establishment has sought to recast its image. At San Diego, party nominees repudiated a platform written by their own delegates, censored conservatives and showcased the Eastern liberals the media love. The ticket then ran a campaign that consciously skirted those social and cultural issues that had been the party’s defining stands. And what did it all profit them?
The Republican Party must grow up and accept that Reagan is gone and his era, the triumphant years of the Cold War, is over. The Evil Empire is not coming back to bring us together again. Nor is the old Democratic Party of Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis and Joycelyn Elders. Unencumbered by ideology, tutored by Dick Morris, the Clintonites learned the lesson of 1994. They will not default again to the GOP by embracing the agenda of the loony Left.
When it finally decides who it is, the Republican Party is going to have to save itself. No one else can — and fewer and fewer care.
Pat Buchanan has been a senior adviser to three Presidents, and twice a candidate himself for the Republican nomination.
From 1966 through 1974, he was a confidant and assistant to Richard Nixon, and from 1985 to 1987, he was White House Director of Communications for the Great Communicator, Ronald Reagan.
In 1992, Mr. Buchanan challenged George Bush for the Republican nomination for President and almost upset the President in the New Hampshire primary. In 1996 he won the New Hampshire primary, and went on to finish second to Senator Dole with three million Republican votes.
Mr. Buchanan was born in the nation’s capital, educated at Jesuit schools, and received his master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University in 1962. At twenty-three, he became the youngest editorial writer on a major newspaper in America, the St. Louis Globe-Democrat.
In 1966, Mr. Buchanan moved to New York to become the first full-time staffer in the legendary comeback of Richard Nixon. He traveled with the future President in the campaigns of 1966 and 1968, and served as the Special Assistant to the President through Mr. Nixon’s final days of Watergate.
On leaving the White House in 1974, Mr. Buchanan became a syndicated columnist and founding member of three of the most enduring—if not most-endearing—talk shows in television history: NBC’s The McLaughlin Group, CNN’s Capital Gang, and Crossfire.
In his White House years, Mr. Buchanan wrote foreign policy speeches and was present at four summit meetings, including Mr. Nixon’s historic opening to China in 1972, and Ronald Reagan’s Reykjavik summit in l986 with Mikhail Gorbachev.
Mr. Buchanan has written three books, the last, a Washington best-seller about growing up in the nation’s capital, in the 40’s and 50’s, titled Right From The Beginning. He is currently completing a book on U. S. trade policy, from the Revolution to the Battle of NAFTA, and has returned to Crossfire, The McLaughlin Group, and his twice-a-week column, now distributed by Creator’s Syndicate.
Mr. Buchanan is married to the former Shelley Arm Scarney, who was a member of the White House Staff from 1969 to 1975.
- Patrick J. Buchanan