With two cans tied to his tail, Dole prepares to challenge Clinton

NEW YORK — NEW YORK -- After an early bumpy road, Sen. Bob Dole appears well on his way to the Republican presidential nomination. But the personalities and ideologies of rivals Steve Forbes and Pat Buchanan augur more bumps en route to San Diego, probably not for the nomination itself but for Senator Dole's hopes for a unified party going into the convention and during it.

Messrs. Forbes and Buchanan made it abundantly clear after Mr. Dole's New York sweep that they have no intention of going quietly. Both are bent on forcing their prime political objectives on the party -- Mr. Forbes' flat tax and Mr. Buchanan's opposition to abortion and free-trade policies.


Each has already had some success in injecting his major themes into the party agenda as now being articulated by Senator Dole. In New York, as earlier, he repeatedly talked about a "flatter, simpler tax" to replace the existing system -- although retaining many of the deductions favored by the middle class that Mr. Forbes' plan would eliminate.

For Mr. Buchanan's benefit, Senator Dole has restated his opposition to abortion; on trade, he says he will use the tools Congress gave President Clinton, but ignored by him, to make NAFTA and GATT work to protect American industries and workers.


These accommodations predictably will not satisfy either Mr. Forbes or Mr. Buchanan. Each has become almost messianic in his stated determination to stay in the race. They have served notice that they intend to use the national convention to give the broadest circulation to their central messages.

Mr. Forbes is taking his successes where he finds them. After being shut out in New York, he boasted of producing "truly a miracle" by opening the state primary ballot through the courts and thus "breaking up the political monopoly in New York" against the resistance of "the most powerful political machine in America today" headed by Sen. Alphonse D'Amato. That was, to be sure, a laudable achievement, but it didn't do anything for Mr. Forbes' presidential aspirations, or his flat-tax dream.

Mr. Buchanan is following his 1992 script. He remained on the campaign trail against George Bush without having won a single primary, yet used his demonstrated public support to claim the convention podium in Houston. His diatribe on a "cultural war" in America later was blamed by many for Mr. Bush's defeat. Mr. Buchanan disagrees, claiming it generated wide support for the party ticket.

Vendetta against Bush

In 1992, his effort seemed essentially a vendetta against President Bush as a camouflaged moderate who had hijacked the Reagan revolution. This time, he is clearly bent on remaking the Republican Party from the defender of corporate America to the party of the downtrodden little guy. What used to pass for the siren song of Democratic liberalism and unionism is now presented by Mr. Buchanan as "conservatism with a heart."

Senator Dole's primary-night invitation that all those who believe in "economic growth [and] traditional family values . . . have a home in this party" isn't going to bring these zealots into the fold. And as Mr. Bush found out in 1992, continued sniping within the party in the remaining primaries will sap Mr. Dole's ability to prepare for the fall contest with his Democratic opponent.

Mr. Forbes argues that his opposition will energize the party and strengthen the hand of the nominee. The evidence is to the contrary. In addition to Mr. Bush's experience, Jimmy Carter had to fend off Sen. Ted Kennedy in the 1980 primaries and was a wounded warrior by the time he faced Ronald Reagan.

Mr. Buchanan obviously doesn't care what his continued effort may do to Senator Dole. He says he won't run as an independent because he doesn't want to be responsible for President Clinton's re-election, but there is plenty of damage he can do to Mr. Dole as a Republican die-hard candidate.


Senator Dole will now do his best to get the party to focus on beating Mr. Clinton in the fall. As long as he has these two noisy tin cans tied to his own tail, it won't be easy.

Jack W. Germond and Jules Witcover report from The Sun's Washington bureau. Pub Date: 3/11/96