TOPICS > Politics

A House Divided: Republican Divide

February 21, 1996 at 12:00 AM EDT

JIM LEHRER: Now, four perspectives on what the New Hampshire results mean for the Republican Party. Vin Weber is co-chairman of the Dole campaign and vice chairman of Empower America; Gary Bauer, who served in the Reagan administration, is head of the Family Research Council and American Renewal; Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee is an Alexander supporter, he’ll be joining us in a few minutes; Ann Stone is the chairman of Republicans for Choice. Gary Bauer, Sen. Dole said today the race now was between mainstream conservatism and extremism. Do you agree?

GARY BAUER, Family Research Council: I don’t, and I hope the Senator, who is a good man, will avoid that kind of rhetoric. There are admittedly differences between these candidates, and they ought to debate them. But I think that if you’re concerned about immigration, if you’re concerned about the sanctity of human life, as millions of Americans are, if you believe that the lower middle class and working class Americans have a legitimate right to be anxious about their jobs and economic future, those are mainstream issues, and I think the reason that Pat Buchanan has done better than expected so far is that he’s touched some nerves in those areas, and my party, I believe, really needs to listen carefully to the themes that he’s sounding.

JIM LEHRER: Vin Weber, why then does Sen. Dole call Pat Buchanan and those views extremism?

VIN WEBER, Co-Chairman, Dole Campaign: Well, first of all, let me say–I want to say I agree with Gary–it’s not helpful to have that rhetoric in the campaign going in any direction, but I also want to make a very important distinction. Sen. Dole and others that refer to Pat Buchanan as an extremist, but particularly Sen. Dole, are probably not referring to the issues that Gary is most concerned about. They’re probably referring to foreign policy positions that can really be interpreted by most Americans as extreme. And I think that’s quite different–

JIM LEHRER: Give us an example.

MR. WEBER: Well, as we saw in some of the Sunday talk shows last Sunday, the suggestion in the past Buchanan column that we should allow the Asian tigers, as you will, Taiwan and Japan, and South Korea, to, to develop nuclear weapons. That maybe something that should be debated, probably not in the midst of a Presidential campaign. I think that his trade position can well be described as extreme. It certainly is at odds with the trade position of the Republican Party since World War II and of every Republican President since then and extremely so. So that’s, you know, whether–I don’t like charged rhetoric, but it is fair to take on positions that fly in the face of Republican policy and the entire post World War II era and that reflect on our position of leadership in the world in a very fundamental way, and draw attention to them.

JIM LEHRER: Do you have a problem with that, Gary Bauer?

MR. BAUER: Well, there are some interesting points there, but look, Ronald Reagan protected Harley-Davidson when it was getting ready to go out of business. The Chrysler bailout, a lot of conservatives opposed that at the time, but Chrysler is alive and well today. I think what Buchanan is trying to say here is that American workers in some case face unfair competition, and it’s a legitimate thing for the Republican Party to signal that they understand the anxiety in the kind of communities where I grew up, in the Midwest, where heavy industry is shut down, and a lot of people are feeling that their children won’t have the same chances they do. Now, we need lower taxes; we need smaller government, which are Republican positions we all agree on, but I think Buchanan on that issue is hitting a nerve, as well as he is on the family issues, which I think my party has been a little too cavalier about, a lot of rhetoric but not much action.

JIM LEHRER: Ann Stone, where do you come down on this extremism versus mainstream conservatism?

ANN STONE, Republicans for Choice: Well, I’ve known Pat for 25 years, and, and he’s a pugilist. He’s a pugilistic candidate. I mean, he’s a fighter.

JIM LEHRER: He’s an extreme pugilist?

MS. STONE: He’s an extreme pugilist. And he’d tell you his pugilism and his youth got him in a lot of trouble. And people love a good fighter. They love a guy that’s out there, willing to fight the good fights, but the problem is that kind of a person can’t always govern, and we really have to get real about, you know, what would Pat Buchanan be able to do as President. I think he’d be totally isolated. He wouldn’t have the Congress working with him even if they were Republican-controlled. And we have to worry about, you know, where we can really take the country. He is not Ronald Reagan. He is–he is much more antagonistic than Reagan ever was. Reagan was always able to build bridges, and Pat seems very content to burn them down. So he also says, you know, that he isn’t for broadening the party, he is for keeping the people that agree with him in the party, and his problem long-term is going to be simple math, and that is his part of the party can’t elect him, and can’t elect other Republicans.

JIM LEHRER: Gary Bauer, do you–that has been said many times in the last 24 hours, and many times before the last 24 hours.

MR. BAUER: Right.

JIM LEHRER: That, that Pat Buchanan has–there’s a ceiling to his support, and he’s not interested in bringing in any new people, he’s not interested in bringing in anybody who doesn’t agree with him.

MR. BAUER: Well, I’ve got this quaint little view that the American people ought to decide whether somebody’s electable or not. I think this is an interesting coalition that he could put together, that is, blue collar workers, Perot voters, Northeastern Catholics, evangelicals. I think, I think the jury’s out. I would also caution my Republican friends that this same rhetoric that’s being used against Pat Buchanan was used against Ronald Reagan in 1976. He was called too extreme. Everybody in the party wanted him to get out of the race when he challenged–when he challenged Gerald Ford. This rhetoric has always been applied to conservatives, and I think my party makes a mistake if it starts turning it on each other.

MR. WEBER: Gary, the only point I’ll add, Reagan held exactly that coalition together, and he also reached out and kept together moderate Republicans and moderate independent voters, and really worked both rhetorically and substantively to hold that altogether. The difference with Pat seems to be that he is alienating several segments–he’s trying to pretend that there was no such thing as a moderate Republican in our coalition.

MR. BAUER: Right.

MR. WEBER: I’m a conservative Republican, but we wouldn’t win elections without moderates.

JIM LEHRER: Let’s bring Senator–

MR. BAUER: But he’s won three out of four so far, so it’s not, not a bad push.

JIM LEHRER: Let’s bring Sen. Thompson into this. Senator, welcome. You just got off an airplane.


JIM LEHRER: I appreciate you joining us.

SEN. THOMPSON: Being a little informal tonight.

JIM LEHRER: Well, that’s quite all right, that’s quite all right. The issue here on the table is, is Pat Buchanan too extreme to get the Republican nomination and to represent the entire Republican Party against Bill Clinton?

SEN. THOMPSON: Well, I’m not going to call anybody names, but I don’t think Pat can get the nomination, and I would think he’d have a hard time getting elected.


SEN. THOMPSON: I think a lot of people–a lot of people in the party feel that way, and I think for that reason it’s going to be a two-man race from here on out.

JIM LEHRER: Well, now, your man, you support Lamar Alexander.

SEN. THOMPSON: That’s right.

JIM LEHRER: He has said that Vin Weber’s man, Bob Dole, should step aside and let him take Buchanan on one-on-one. Does he expect that to happen?

SEN. THOMPSON: I doubt it. (everyone laughing)

MR. WEBER: Well, we’ve got agreement; it’ll be a two-man race.

JIM LEHRER: You should wear turtle-necks more often. That’s a good expectation. You would agree, Mr. Weber, that’s not–Bob Dole–

SEN. THOMPSON: I think he’s trying to–he’s trying to make the point, that he’s been making for some time, and that is that he is more electable than Bob Dole, that he is the one that ought to effect the challenge against Buchanan. Buchanan is the other, the other side of the coin, you might say right now, and he’s the person to take that on, but–that he has new ideas, and Dole does not, and that’s a part of his overall position, although I doubt if he expects Dole to get out of the race.

JIM LEHRER: All right. Gary Bauer, is–you represent–I would say you represent all of them–but you represent the, the social conservative part of the–

MR. BAUER: Right.

JIM LEHRER: –Republican Party. Is, is your–the folks who think like you, are you more interested in, in a candidate who represents your views, or in electing somebody in November against Bill Clinton? Where are your priorities at this stage of the game?

MR. BAUER: Well, I want both and don’t believe those are mutually exclusive things.


MR. BAUER: I, I think Ronald Reagan won two landslides, three if you count George Bush’s landslide after, after Ronald Reagan was gone, one because Ronald Reagan’s signal to the American people that he understood not only the budget deficit but the virtue deficit, what’s happening to the heart and soul of the country, and he sent signals on the right-to-life issue, on a host of other things. He identified with blue collar workers. That’s what made him electable, and that is the future, I believe, for my party.

JIM LEHRER: So what is the soul, what is the soul of the Republican Party, Ann Stone? Is there such a thing?

MS. STONE: Well, the mainstream of the party, all the surveys show, are basically very fiscal and defense conservative, but on social issues, more moderated.

JIM LEHRER: They don’t all agree with Gary Bauer?

MS. STONE: They don’t all agree; a lot of them do; a lot of them do agree with certain aspects of what Gary’s group stands for, and that’s–there is a lot more common ground than people understand. But Pat Buchanan is definitely not the mainstream of the party, and for that reason, he won’t get the nomination, and for that reason, he definitely would not be electable.

JIM LEHRER: Do you–do you agree, Vin Weber, would you agree with that flat statement that she–that Pat Buchanan will not be nominated by the Republican Party, that’s just impossible politically?

MR. WEBER: I don’t think he’s going to be nominated by the Republican Party. I mean, impossible, strange things happen. I never thought as a young man I’d ever see a President of the United States resign either. I don’t think Pat Buchanan is going to get nominated by the Republican Party. I don’t–I certainly don’t think he could get elected President, but you’d have to give him his due. Gary points out he’s won a couple of elections, albeit with numbers in the 20s. That doesn’t actually do it on election day against a single opponent in November, but he’s done okay, but, no, I don’t think he’s going to get nominated. The question is how soon, in my judgment, can Sen. Dole wrap up the nomination, because the earlier he does that, the better our chances of defeating Bill Clinton.

JIM LEHRER: Sen. Thompson, let me ask you to play a whole other role here for a moment, and that’s kind of a reporter on Tennessee Republicans. Understanding your, your partiality toward Lamar Alexander, et cetera, what kind of chords does Pat Buchanan’s message strike in Tennessee?

SEN. THOMPSON: Well, I think it’s a point that needs to be made, and that is, I believe what I said about his electability, but I think we need to recognize that he’s tapped into something here that has kind of been overlooked by a lot of people. I’m not talking about the harshness and all of that, because you’ve let your position paper is part of that, but the way you do it, and the message you convey subliminally and all of that’s a part of it too, Pat’s got a problem there, but as far as the economic uncertainty that people have, the desire for change in Washington, the cynicism people have for their own government, we need to recognize that. Now, our answer is not building a wall or excluding people, but, but there’s a problem there that I think that we’ve overlooked, and I see that in Tennessee. When I go around–I’m home almost every weekend–I go around–people are concerned about losing their jobs. I go to places, some little communities have lost two textile manufacturing concerns. Well, it’s easy for somebody to convince them let’s pass a law that they can’t move, you know, but that’s not the answer, obviously, and it’s up to us to recognize that we’ve got to formulate a message and, and carry the proper message to these people to win ’em over.

JIM LEHRER: One of the things that was said on this program, on our special we did last night, Vin Weber, was that, that Sen. Dole, when he said yesterday, well, I didn’t realize that that was such a big deal, this economic thing that Sen. Thompson just outlined until Pat Buchanan raised–

MR. WEBER: That’s not exactly what he said.

JIM LEHRER: All right.

MR. WEBER: He said he never thought that we would end the New Hampshire primary arguing about trade, which is quite different–

JIM LEHRER: All right.

MR. WEBER: –than saying–I mean, he understood exactly and he made the point that he didn’t think he was going to have to argue about that because in a state like New Hampshire, like the rest of the country, where so many jobs depend on exporting goods, the notion of a rigorous protectionist policy such as Pat Buchanan is advocating will cost us jobs, not create them.

JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Gary Bauer, lay out a scenario, a political scenario, not based here again–you do a lot of–you have your own beliefs, and et cetera, et cetera–

MR. BAUER: Sure.

JIM LEHRER: –but you also watch what other people believe and how they act.

MR. BAUER: Right.

JIM LEHRER: Lay out a scenario how Pat Buchanan gets the nomination.

MR. BAUER: Well, he gets it by winning the primaries coming up, and he–

JIM LEHRER: But how does he win the primaries, particularly as the–as the winnowing process continues–

MR. BAUER: Sure.

JIM LEHRER: –and it ends up maybe a two-man race, whether it’s either with–against–

MR. BAUER: Sure.

JIM LEHRER: –Sen. Dole or Lamar Alexander.

MR. BAUER: Well, one way he wins the primaries is Sen. Dole and others attempt to bash him so much that they insult the conservative base of the party. I can see him doing very well in South Carolina, in Arizona, which is coming up. I think in states like Michigan, he has the chance of putting together evangelicals with blue collar workers, in areas around Detroit, so there’s some interesting possibilities here, but I, Jim, I think the Senator is really touching on the key thing here. My–one of the most vivid memories of my life is seeing my 55-year-old father come home, old Marine, going to the kitchen table and crying–I’d never seen him cry in my life–because he had just lost his job. My party can’t sound cavalier or unconcerned about real live tragedies that happen to American families all the time because of dislocations in the economy, recession, some trade policies, et cetera, and I think that’s the message Buchanan has, and I believe it’s a powerful message when coupled with these social issues.

MS. STONE: But we have to stop dwelling on the problem and be offering the solutions. I mean, Pat’s very good at exacerbating the problem, but it has to be, you know, our party has to have a positive message about what the solutions are. And further, well, further, you know, again, I get back to the fact that Pat will not be electable. Right now, the party, itself, has a problem with the moderate vote and the pro-choice conservative vote even wanting a Republican in the White House. They want Republicans in the Congress and the Senate because the economic reforms they’ll get, but they’re not convinced that they want Republicans in control of all three bodies, and certainly Buchanan is going to absolutely assure that they’re not going to want a Republican and you’re going to have a massive walkout in the general election.

JIM LEHRER: He said–we ran the clip a moment ago–he said in South Carolina he, Buchanan said that, he emphasized how important the abortion, his abortion stand was. How, how does that–how does that ring toward his getting the nomination, in your opinion?

MS. STONE: Again, it may help him in a lot of the primaries, although I’ve been encouraged to see that the majority of the vote in the primaries has been moderate. In fact, in New Hampshire, the exit polls showed 67 percent of the voters that voted in the primary were for taking the plank out of the platform specifically. Umm, but the problem is the case for the general election is such that moderates and pro-choice conservatives are willing to walk on the White House as long as we keep Republican control of the Congress.

MR. BAUER: That’s a disaster, in my view for the party.

MS. STONE: It’s a problem.

MR. BAUER: If the party backs down on its right-to-life stance, I can tell you that the kind of people that belong to my organization, they’re gone.

MS. STONE: Gary, except that–Gary, keeping the plank as is and backing down on the issue are two separate things.

MR. BAUER: Well, they’ll–they’ll either sit at home, or they’ll put their energies someplace else. They’ll go somewhere.

JIM LEHRER: How important is abortion, Vin Weber?

MR. WEBER: Abortion is an important issue of the Republican Party. The pro-life vote and the broader pro-family religious conservative vote is indispensable to the Republican Party. You also have to get people that don’t agree on those issues, and that’s what a majority party is all about. You know, when we were a little tiny minority party all those years the Democrats controlled everything in this country, we didn’t need to worry about these arguments. Part of this is the pain of being a majority, we have to conflict–settle all these conflicting claims.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree? Do you think that’s possible, Senator?

SEN. THOMPSON: Yeah, I do, and I think we as a party ought to be in pretty good shape. We shouldn’t be too concerned that we’re fighting among ourselves and trying to pick a winner after the first primary. I mean, this is, these guys are going against each other. It’s natural. I mean, the Willie Horton ad was run in a primary, one Democrat against another, you know. It gets pretty rough sometimes, but we after this thing is over with ought to be in a good position, and addressing some of these problems. It was President Clinton who vetoed the balanced budget, and it was President Clinton who vetoed the welfare bill that many Democrats supported. It was President Clinton who opposed regulatory reform. A lot of things that would solve the problems that Pat has pointed out we ought to have the high ground on.

JIM LEHRER: It’s going to be a while before you get to President Clinton, isn’t it?

SEN. THOMPSON: Yeah, it’ll be a while.

JIM LEHRER: Okay. Thank you all four very much.