WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- Jack Kemp's 13th-hour endorsement of Steve Forbes for president is one of the most bizarre events in a campaign that has had many of them. All the wisecracks about boarding a sinking ship and locking the barn door come quickly to mind.
The notion that Mr. Kemp might be any practical help to Mr. Forbes on the final day of the New York primary campaign was laughable. Although he served several terms as a congressman from Buffalo, Mr. Kemp was never a statewide figure of any prominence in the party.
Nonetheless, the Kemp endorsement does underline a continuing problem for Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole as he advances inexorably on the 996 votes needed to capture the nomination at San Diego. Although he has the nomination essentially in hand, Senator Dole has yet to dissolve the doubts about him among the Republican Party's devotees of supply-side economics. Nor is he likely to do so.
And that, in turn, means there is another segment of the party -- in addition to the supporters of Patrick J. Buchanan -- that needs to be assuaged if there is to be any genuine Republican unity in the campaign against President Clinton next fall.
The divisions in the party on economic questions have been laid out starkly in the last few days. As Senator Dole has gained
steam, he has gone back to emphasizing the importance of balancing the federal budget as the cornerstone of the economic program he would pursue in the White House.
To the supply-siders such as Messrs. Kemp and Forbes, however, balancing the budget takes a back seat to the flat tax and lower rates to stimulate investment. That theme has been the cornerstone of the Forbes campaign.
As a practical matter, there are not enough enthusiasts for the flat tax to sustain Mr. Forbes in the primaries in which he now appears determined to compete. But the Kemp endorsement is a reminder that Mr. Forbes has insisted all along that his campaign was primarily the device for advancing an idea. And if he is willing to continue spending heavily, his campaign can be a nagging problem for the front-running Mr. Dole as he plays out the delegate game.
Moreover, the senator must deal at the same time with a second pressure -- the apparent conversion of the Buchanan campaign from a political operation to a moral movement. Mr. Buchanan demonstrated in 1992 that he is willing to stay through the primary schedule and bring his case to the convention.
Although Mr. Buchanan appeals to the religious right and other cultural conservatives on several issues, the one with the most potential for discomforting Senator Dole is abortion rights. He has put himself on record against abortions except in cases in which the life of the mother is at stake or the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, but this is too liberal for those who oppose any abortion under any circumstances.
Doubts about Dole
Those who feel most strongly on the issue always have doubted Senator Dole's commitment -- probably correctly so. Although he may say the right things on abortion rights, the Kansan never has put the issue at the head of his list of concerns. Now he faces the prospect of dealing with it both in the language of the Republican platform and in his choice for vice president.
Thus, we have the spectacle of Bob Dole winning eight primaries in a single day and fastening what should be a firm grip on the nomination -- yet unable to win the embrace of two factions of his party. No serious nomination threat is presented to the senator even if Messrs. Forbes and Buchanan remain in the field the rest of the way. Chances are, Mr. Dole will lock up the necessary delegates no later than the April 23 Pennsylvania primary. But thanks to Jack Kemp and Pat Buchanan, we know it won't be unanimous.
Jack W. Germond and Jules Witcover report from The Sun's Washington bureau.
Pub Date: 3/08/96