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Jewish World Review Jan. 28, 2000 /21 Shevat, 5760

Thomas Sowell

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Are GOPers suicidal? -- REPUBLICANS ARE the eighth wonder of the world. Consider the situation they are in and what they are doing about it.

When Bill Clinton finishes his term in January 2001, it will be 8 years since a Republican was in the White House -- and it could eventually turn out to be 12, depending on the results of this year's presidential election.

Not only have the Republicans been on the outside looking in, as far as the presidency is concerned, they have learned the hard way that even control of both Houses of Congress doesn't mean as much as it might when there is a shrewd political operator opposing them from the White House.

Even when Congress restrains spending -- as only it can -- and produces the first budget surplus in decades, a president who knows how to manipulate the media can take the credit because it happened on his watch. It was a Republican president, Theodore Roosevelt, who said that the presidency is "a bully pulpit."

Meanwhile, the demographic makeup of the population is changing, with a growing proportion of Americans being members of non-white groups who usually vote for the Democrats. If the Republicans go into the next century as losers in the White House sweepstakes, it could be a very long time before they ever become winners again in presidential elections.

Into this critical situation last fall there suddenly emerged Texas Governor George W. Bush as a candidate outpolling anybody the Democrats have to put into the presidential race. Moreover, he brought with him a track record of winning a sizable share of the Hispanic vote in Texas, something that few Republicans can do.

What have the Republicans done in response to this chance to recoup their fortunes? They have fielded a small army of rival candidates, most of whom do not have a snowball's chance in hell of becoming president.

Republicans have been whittling down their own front runner with a constant barrage of attacks from inside the party, long before the Democrats get a chance to take a shot at him. Even if Governor Bush weathers all these attacks and goes on to win the Republican nomination, it could mean a far less promising candidacy than it seemed just a few months ago.

Even the strongest of Governor Bush's rivals -- John McCain and Steve Forbes -- have only a long shot chance of defeating him for the nomination, though their attacks may well succeed in destroying his chance of returning the Republicans to the White House. As for the other candidates, whatever their gifts for rhetoric or their sincerity of purpose, the only role they can play is that of spoilers.

What happens to the Republicans is of course small potatoes compared to what happens to the country. Whether Vice President Al Gore wins and gives us a third Clinton administration or Bill Bradley pulls off a miracle, it means more big-government liberalism as far ahead as the eye can see.

The next president -- whoever he is -- will probably have three Supreme Court nominations and possibly four. That can be the difference between a court where the justices consistently uphold the Constitution, for the first time in more than half a century, or one in which all pretense of the rule of law erodes away and decisions simply reflect shameless political correctness.

Militarily, the trend toward declining readiness and declining morale that has already set in under Clinton can continue under Gore or Bradley, along with a growing tendency to send our troops into more and more countries around the world, on missions having little or nothing to do with protecting the United States of America.

On the home front, the reckless and cynical playing of the race card, which has already marked the Gore campaign and that of Hillary Clinton, can be expected to escalate group polarization in this country if either Gore or Bradley wins the White House.

The high stakes for the Republican Party are dwarfed by the even higher stakes for the country and its future. Yet Republicans act as if their chance for victory in November gives them the luxury to pursue all sorts of individual agendas in the meantime.

But neither Steve Forbes' promising policy proposals nor Alan Keyes' brilliant rhetoric nor John McCain's carefully cultivated image will mean anything if the election this fall does not provide Republicans with the power to carry out any of the agendas that all their splinter groups have their hearts set on. Republicans could easily blow the chance of a lifetime -- for themselves and for this country -- by having their eyes fixed on the little picture.

JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author, most recently, of The Quest for Cosmic Justice.


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© 2000, Creators Syndicate