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Facing 2000, The Republican Party Splinters

Schisms between economic and social conservatives are only the beginning

By Bill Schneider/CNN


WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, April 1) -- Democrats may be beset by scandal but Republicans are a party in chaos. According to one recent poll, they're not just split between economic and social conservatives. Economic and social conservatives are also divided among themselves.


Economic conservatives are split between deficit hawks and supply-siders. The issue? Which takes top priority: balancing the budget or cutting taxes?

Supply-siders have two horses to pick from: Steve Forbes and Jack Kemp. "The supply-side claim is not a claim," says Kemp. "It is empirically true and historically convincing that with lower rates of taxation on labor and capital, the factors of production, you'll get a bigger economy."

Last year, Forbes said he would not have run for president if Kemp had run. But then Kemp was named to the ticket, so now it's every supply-sider for himself.

The rising star among deficit hawks is a brash young Ohio congressman, Rep. John Kasich, chairman of the House Budget Committee.

Did we say brash? Last month, Kasich had this to say about entitlements: "The issues of Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security -- what are we doing to convince the American people that we're prepared to deal with those tough issues?"

Shut up, is what a lot of strategists would advise.

Social conservatives are split between the religious right and so-called "cultural populists." The current champion of cultural populists is Pat Buchanan, who articulates their anti-establishment resentments on issues like affirmative action, free trade and immigration. "If we can send an army halfway around the world to defend the borders of Bosnia and defend the borders of Kuwait," he asked an August 1996 rally, "why can't we defend the borders of the United States of America?"


The religious right never jumped on the Buchanan bandwagon, even though he is staunchly opposed to abortion and gay rights. They want to join the establishment, not bring it down.

The religious right hasn't had a horse to ride since Pat Robertson fell off the saddle back in 1988. Will they find one for 2000? Dan Quayle's a favorite, and family values are his issue. "We have to speak up and speak out for those family values that sustain the American character," Quayle says.

Some Republicans are distressed by the stranglehold the religious right has on their party. They're the "Volvo Republicans" -- affluent, well-educated, fiscally conservative and socially moderate.

Potential candidates? They include Gov. Christie Whitman of New Jersey and Gov. George Pataki of New York, assuming they get re-elected. Their nominations would provoke a costly fight over abortion in the GOP.

Is there a moderate Republican with a chance of getting nominated and elected? Yes. It's Colin Powell. "Let us never step back from compassion," he told the Republican convention last year. "The message we must convey to the American people is that we fight for health care reform, we fight for welfare reform and other reforms, not just to save money, but because we believe there are better ways to take care of Americans in need."

If Powell were to run, he would change the profile of the Republican Party at a stroke.


New South conservatives are now the base of the GOP: Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia, House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi.

Their issue? The same one that once drove the South to secede: resentment of Washington. "We don't have all the answers in Washington," Lott said last month. "In fact, we have very few of the answers in Washington. Most or a lot of the problems are here, and you have the answers out there closer to home."

Lott may run in 2000. But the New South conservative who is drawing a lot of attention right now is George Bush. Not the parachute jumper. The governor of Texas. If his tax reform plan gets through the Texas legislature in some recognizable form, it could propel him to re-election next year and maybe into the White House.


Tennessee offers two potential GOP candidates. Lamar Alexander's whole 1996 campaign was an assault on Washington. "All these programs from Washington won't create strong families and good schools and safe neighborhoods. We've got to do it ourselves," he said.

Then there's Fred Thompson, who will have a major starring role this year in the televised Senate hearings on campaign fund-raising. If the campaign reform issue turns out to have a political payoff, Thompson is positioning himself to claim it.

Ronald Reagan held Republicans together because he had something in common with every faction of the party, even the moderates, who shared his spirit of tolerance. All Republicans today claim to be Reagan's direct descendants. And like most descendants, they're squabbling over the inheritance.

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