WASHINGTON -- Gary Bauer would not be America's shortest president. He is two inches taller than James Madison's 5 feet 4 inches. But Mr. Bauer's most impressive numbers are:
In the last election cycle, his political action committee raised $7 million -- more than Dan Quayle or Lamar Alexander raised. This was in addition to the $15 million raised by the Family Research Council that Mr. Bauer heads. Granted, the FRC is a nonprofit organization, so contributions are tax-deductible and, unlike political contributions, can exceed $1,000. Still, on Friday Mr. Bauer, 52, will leave the FRC to seek the GOP presidential nomination.
He accepts the premise that a credible candidate will need to raise $20 million by next January, and believes he can do it. His PAC mailing list has 90,000 names drawn from conservative think tanks, political and religious publications, petitions circulated at Promise Keepers rallies and other target-rich environments.
Missouri Sen. John Ashcroft's decision not to seek the Republican nomination removed one impediment to Mr. Bauer's becoming the favorite son of the religious right. Another potential impediment -- a third run by Pat Buchanan -- may not materialize. An Elizabeth Dole candidacy would complicate matters for Mr. Bauer, who would say to social conservatives: "Can you think of a time in the last 10 or 12 years when Elizabeth was in a battle you cared about? If not, what does that tell you? There has been no shortage of battles."
It may tell people that Ms. Dole was busy in two Cabinet offices (Labor and Transportation) and leading the American Red Cross. If she runs, she, like Mr. Bauer and magazine publisher Steve Forbes, will be seeking to make the presidency her first elective office, but her public service credentials will be a cut above theirs. Mr. Bauer served as President Reagan's domestic policy adviser.
He grew up in Newport, Ky., when it was the sin city across the river from Cincinnati. There he acquired a starchy moral stance toward the excesses of modern life.
Mr. Bauer recognizes that the river of public opinion, which today renders moral judgment only against being "judgmental," is not running in the direction he favors. However, he has campaigned around the country for various causes -- even in North Pole, Alaska, against same-sex marriage -- and he believes it is realistic to hope that his constituency, given leadership, can reverse the river of opinion. He certainly can roil it.
With beguiling directness, he says, "I'm not delusional. I don't look like a president. I don't sound like a president. It is possible for me to walk into a room without anyone noticing." However, he thinks he can walk into Iowa and make his Republican rivals notice.
Iowa's caucus system favors the highly motivated -- those who will venture out on a February evening to transact politics. In 1996 about 100,000 of Iowa's 570,000 registered Republicans voted in the caucuses. Bob Dole won with 26 percent. Religious conservatives are strong among Iowa Republicans: In 1988 the second-place finisher, with 25 percent, was Pat Robertson.
Money guarantees nothing: In 1996 Mr. Forbes spent more than $400 for every Iowa vote he got finishing fourth. Still, Mr. Bauer hopes to raise large sums from small contributions. Contributions up to $250 are matched by the federal government.
If he raises $20 million, and $15 million is from contributions of $250 or less, in January 2000 the government will give him a check for $15 million. With that he can have a merry time making his rivals miserable by indicting them for what he calls "hesitancy" in advocating the anti-abortion stance and other components of the social conservatives' agenda.
He is distinctively (among conservatives) skeptical about privatizing Social Security. His early and ardent criticism of the Clinton administration's appeasement of China is being vindicated by China's crackdown on dissent and, soon, by Rep. Chris Cox's committee report on China's means of acquiring U.S. military technology.
A temperate and articulate man who does not lend himself to hostile caricatures, Mr. Bauer could shift thousands of votes and could scramble the results in the early going in 2000. His constituency, once he kindles it, could be the fire to which some other candidates' feet will be held.
George F. Will is a syndicated columnist.
Pub Date: 1/14/99