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Jewish World Review July 19, 1999 /6 Av 5759

Don Feder

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Econophone

Bob Smith makes a principled exit

http://www.jewishworldreview.com --
AS THE SENIOR SENATOR from New Hampshire, Bob Smith sits at Daniel Webster's desk on the Senate floor. On Tuesday, the former high-school history teacher and erstwhile candidate for the GOP presidential nomination proved himself worthy of that honor.

"I came to the Republican Party on principle, and I'm leaving on principle," Smith declared, in a move that could cost him his Senate seat in 2002.

The establishment sneered at the exit of the 15-year congressional veteran. Republican National Chairman Jim Nicholson languidly observed that Smith's move would have a "marginal political impact."

The response of conservatives still in the Republican race calls Nicholson's judgment into question. Pat Buchanan charged that the GOP leadership "is doing its best to force a fracture" of the party.

The establishment should "stop running people like Bob Smith out of the party," said Steve Forbes. Dan Quayle warned that Smith's departure was another example of a party that "too often fails to fight for an agenda that unites social and economic conservatives."

Smith has decided to seek the U.S. Taxpayer Party's nomination for the presidency on a platform that's "pro-life," "pro-military," "pro-sovereignty," and "pro-character and integrity." Buchanan is toying with the idea of running as the Reform Party candidate.

Quayle and Forbes assure us there will always be an "R" next to their names. But the party and its likely nominee seem determined to alienate all of these stalwarts and their supporters.

Can they afford to?

Mesmerized by the polls and dazzled by his campaign's treasury, Texas Gov. George W. Bush has dispensed with the formalities of lying to conservatives before the convention and betraying us afterward, moving directly to the general-election strategy.

On a recent trip to California, Bush distanced himself from two popularly enacted initiatives -- a 1994 ballot question denying public services to illegal immigrants and a 1996 amendment ending quotas in state employment and education. Junior says that in his administration there will be no pro-life "litmus test" for judicial appointments. (The gov, you see, is rhetorically pro-life, but doesn't intend to do anything about it.) In his farewell address, Smith commented on just how little the GOP actually cares about the unborn: "Republican appointments on the Supreme Court gave us Roe vs. Wade and Republican appointments upheld Roe."

Smith
Bush refuses to clarify his ostensibly pro-life position. Does he believe Roe is unconstitutional? If so, since he will not promise to appoint justices committed to overturning an injustice -- in effect, the governor will have no pro-Constitution litmus test, either. Even after Gerald Ford, George Bush Sr. and Bob Dole, focus-group Republicans still don't get it. When they nominate a candidate who can credibly articulate a conservative vision, they win. When they pick pragmatists who think a principle is someone who runs the local high school, they lose. (Says Smith, "The party machinery has become an obstacle to the party's principles.")

There are liberal Republicans in Congress and among the leadership. They are non-existent at the grass roots.

In 1996, The New York Times surveyed delegates to the Republican National Convention and found they were even more likely to call themselves "very conservative" than delegates to the 1984 Reagan convention. On racial quotas, school prayer, abortion and gun control, they were far to the right of that year's nominee.

These are the activists -- the grunts on whom the party depends to project its message and get out the vote -- Bush will discourage, depress and (finally) demobilize.

More than just the activists, ultimately, the public will tire of a candidate who's all exterior -- who can smile and say glib things (in English and Spanish) but who stands for nada, who has turned his conscience over to his consultants, who speaks in cliches and thinks in polling numbers.

Forbes reminds us that in 1948, Republicans (hungry for victory after a string of defeats) nominated the popular two-term governor of another large state.

The nominee was ahead in the polls right up to election day. Fearful of losing support by saying something meaningful, the candidate ran an issueless campaign.

No, you didn't miss Thomas Dewey's presidency. It never happened. Neither will the Bush presidency, if men like Bob Smith keep leaving the Republican Party on principle.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder can be reached by clicking here.


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©1999, Creators Syndicate