WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- President Clinton's runaway re-election to a second term has left the Republican Party a leaderless coalition of disparate -- and sometimes antagonistic -- political factions.
But, perhaps because it was a triumph so easily achieved, Clinton's Democratic Party also emerges from the election with its own identity far from clear.
The president never spelled out an agenda for his second term because he never felt pressured to do so, ensuring that as an instant lame duck he will be subjected to continuing tugging and hauling over the direction of his legislative program.
Clinton now can claim far more of a personal, if not policy, mandate than he was given four years ago, but his ability to influence liberal Democrats not totally satisfied with the first term hasn't been enhanced.
And the president faces months, perhaps years, of dealing with investigations of his conduct and that of many members of the White House and Democratic National Committee staffs.
The investigations will be given new impetus with the continued Republican control of the Senate that seemed apparent on the basis of incomplete returns.
But the Democratic problems are picayune against those confronting the Republicans today.
The dimensions of the president's success were imposing enough to ensure an agonizing struggle among Republicans to define their future direction.
And, given the backbiting and sniping already under way among Republicans, it is clear there is no consensus on why Bob Dole failed so completely or what, if anything, he might have done differently.
The core of the problem for the Republicans is that they lack anyone who can make a legitimate claim for national leadership.
Defeated at 73, Dole is yesterday's news in the coldly pragmatic world of national politics. His running mate, Jack Kemp, also is in no position to assert national leadership after having outraged social conservatives with his preoccupation with supply-side economics.
And Republican leader Newt Gingrich will be blamed widely enough for the party's defeat in the presidential race that his position as the GOP's ranking national official will be largely hollow.
By the last month of the session, congressional Republicans were going to great lengths to separate themselves from their leader. Some, for example, cast "no" votes on routine procedural business in House sessions so they could lower the percentage of times their votes agreed with those of the speaker.
Although lacking leaders, the Republicans are left with three competing centers of power.
One is the religious right represented by the Christian Coalition, which can claim a role in salvaging some electoral votes for Dole in states such as Texas, Oklahoma and Alabama. The case of the religious right, already being made by television evangelist Pat Robertson, is that Dole did not go far enough in stressing the social issues -- opposition to abortion rights and homosexual rights, support for prayer in the schools, home schooling -- in making his case against a president widely distrusted by the electorate.
On the other side, however, are the Republican governors who are moderate on social questions even if devoutly conservative on fiscal and tax matters. This group would include Pete Wilson of California, Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey, William F. Weld of Massachusetts, Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania, George E. Pataki of New York and Jim Edgar of Illinois.
The returns provided strong evidence to support their claim that Dole went too far in allowing the Christian Coalition to influence the party -- and cost the Republicans at all levels in defections by moderate Republicans, particularly suburban women offended by the hard line against abortion rights and the moralistic tone of the party leadership.
The dimensions of those defections were obvious in such contests as those in New Hampshire, where late polls found Dole winning less than 60 percent of the votes of self-identified Granite State Republicans who have consistently been extremely conservative on tax and spending issues but far less so on social questions.
The most striking example was the election of Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, a three-term state senator, to the governorship.
She won more than one-third of the state's Republicans after she made the case that her GOP opponent, Ovide Lamontagne, was too extreme in his opposition to abortion rights and his willingness as head of the state board of education to tolerate the teaching of creationism in the schools.
Similar defections were obvious in normally Republican suburbs of such cities as Philadelphia, New York and Chicago where Democrats were running even with or ahead of Republican House candidates despite being far behind in party registration.
The moderates' case also was reinforced by the finding of exit polls that such social issues as abortion rights were far down the list of voter concerns that gave the highest priority to producing more jobs, saving Medicare from budget-cutters and improving education.
The third center of influence in the GOP inevitably will be the congressional leadership, including not only Gingrich and House Majority Leader Dick Armey but also Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi. It is this leadership, whether as a congressional majority or minority, that will have to formulate the party's national program.
But, in the eyes of the more moderate governors and their allies, these are the same people who set the stage for the Dole debacle by their decision to shut down the government twice last winter, their continued resistance to the ban on assault weapons and their insistence on eliminating the Department of Education -- three issues that polls showed contributed most heavily to the negative image of Gingrich and his party.
If there is one politician for whom the results were an unalloyed success, it is probably Vice President Al Gore.
Gore was given high marks within the party for his role in the campaign, and Clinton is known to feel that he should give his vice president increased opportunity to influence the second term as a precursor to his own campaign for president in 2000.
Thus, Gore is expected to control the choice of a new leader for the Democratic National Committee and to have a voice in the selection of second-term Cabinet and White House officials.
But he also faces the almost certain prospect of competition in a presidential bid from, among others, House Democratic Leader Richard A. Gephardt and Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, who now will step down as general chairman of the party.
For the Republicans, the question of who emerges from the wreckage to become a presidential contender is the obvious one. But the critical one is whether there is any common ground that can accommodate both Pat Robertson and Christine Whitman.
The election results of 1996 suggest it may be hard to find.
Pub Date: 11/06/96