After flirting with Buchanan bigotries and Forbes fantasies, Republican voters have come to their senses by rallying to Sen. Bob Dole. With his pivotal victory in South Carolina last Saturday and his stunning sweep of eight "Junior Tuesday" primaries yesterday, including Maryland's, the Senate majority leader has reclaimed his position as the presumptive GOP candidate for president.
Although also-rans Lamar Alexander and Dick Lugar prudently withdrew from the race, TV commentator Pat Buchanan and publisher Steve Forbes remain problems for Senator Dole and his party. They cannot deny the Kansan the Republican nomination, but they can leave him weakened and the GOP divided in the ultimate faceoff against Democrat Bill Clinton.
Mr. Forbes continues to spend his inherited millions in New York, which holds a rare, contested primary today, and in California, where the financially strapped Dole campaign can scarcely match the Forbes family fortune. It is reassuring, however, that Mr. Forbes' advocacy of a flawed flat-tax formula that promises an increased disparity between rich and poor in America is finally registering with voters.
Mr. Buchanan remains the bigger threat to the GOP. He could be a precursor to a third-party Ross Perot entry. That was the pattern in 1992, which gave Mr. Clinton the presidency with only 43 percent of the vote. This time Mr. Buchanan's identification with Perot-style protectionism, xenophobia and economic nationalism is even more strident. Both populists appeal to fearful and resentful Americans, and could draw off potential Dole voters.
What is most heartening about the senator's victory is that his long record of good-sense public service is starting to pay off. Mr. Forbes and Mr. Buchanan may keep plugging their "outsider" messages but the Dole emphasis on "experience" in "unsettled times" resonates when voters get serious.
Speaker Newt Gingrich's belated endorsement of Mr. Dole underscores another factor in the Senate leader's resurgence. For weeks the Republicans got "off message" as Mr. Buchanan pushed for a no-exceptions ban on abortions and Mr. Forbes toyed with the flat-tax panacea.
Now Republicans can get back to the basic themes of their legislative agenda in Congress: A balanced budget, lower government spending, less regulation and, most important, an assault on popular entitlement programs that create unsustainable deficits year after year.
We welcome Bob Dole's comeback. May it continue.
Pub Date: 3/07/96