Dealing in Buchanan

Robert G. Beckel, a political analyst on CBS, served as campaign manager for Walter F. Mondale in 1984

There is now little doubt that Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole will be the Republican presidential nominee. But there is a great deal of doubt about what the nomination is worth. Dole will inherit a party that is bloodied and battered. No recent campaign has been as nasty as this, and until and unless Dole can make peace with Patrick J. Buchanan, his nomination could prove worthless.

Making peace with Buchanan is easier said than done. In a 24-hour period last week, Buchanan referred to Dole as a "bellhop for the business roundtable," "empty vessel" and "clueless." Not exactly the words you use among friends.

But lest we forget, it was Dole and his establishment elephants that started the name-calling. After New Hampshire, Dole referred to Buchanan as an extremist and dangerous. Former Education Secretary William J. Bennett called Buchanan worse names and then went so far as to say he wouldn't support him against President Bill Clinton. To add insult to injury, Dole's designated pit bull, Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato of New York, essentially called Buchanan anti-Semitic and a bigot. Funny how D'Amato never calls the mob any names.

So it is in this climate that Dole must reach an accommodation with Buchanan. Good luck! He might have a better shot at getting Roseanne and Tom Arnold back together.

The job of detente becomes more difficult as Dole begins the process of convincing Colin L. Powell to reverse himself and run for vice president. The Dole camp says the list is long--yeah, right. There is only one candidate who can help Dole's vision-challenged campaign, and that is Powell. Any other names you hear are chopped liver. Powell could be persuaded to take the job--after all, it's the fastest and safest route to the top job, since, at Dole's age, more than one term is unlikely.

But enter Buchanan. He has made it abundantly clear that Powell is unacceptable to Buchanan and his peasant brigades. First and foremost, Powell is pro-choice--and that's anathema to Buchanan. But beyond that, Buchanan believes Powell is a moderate to liberal Democrat who is leeching onto the GOP. Buchanan has told me several times that a Powell presidency could ruin the conservative movement and only he, Buchanan, can stop it. The place to start, Buchanan believes, is denying Powell the vice presidency.

Buchanan critics say that, at best, he will have only 20%-25% of the convention delegates in San Diego if he stays in the race (he will), and that Dole can put anyone on the ticket he wants. Not so fast. Not only can 25% of delegates cause real trouble, but they also reflect a fiercely loyal constituency that Buchanan has developed.

The fervor of Buchanan's followers reminds me of Jesse Jackson's supporters during the 1984 campaign. We in the Mondale campaign were soundly criticized for accommodating Jackson at the convention--but if we had not reached out, there would have been hell to pay. It may not have mattered in the general election, but it sure made for a peaceful convention.

In Buchanan's case, it could mean both the convention and the election. Dole needs Buchanan voters to beat Clinton in November. These are people who were fiercely loyal to Ronald Reagan but highly suspicious of the insider Dole. Many are former or current disaffected Democrats, who could swing back if Buchanan is mugged in San Diego.

So what can Dole do to reach an accommodation with Buchanan? Some hard-learned suggestions:

* To begin, he should ask to meet with Buchanan and agree to a cease-fire, even apologize publicly for some of the anti-Buchanan remarks. Dole should recognize that Buchanan has had a history of being a good Republican and wants to beat Clinton. He should remind Buchanan that without his help, that would be difficult.

* He should remind Buchanan that a third party or a Ross Perot campaign would almost certainly end the GOP's revolution of '94; and if Buchanan participated, he would be a man without a party.

* He should give Buchanan the pro-life plank he wants in the party platform. Except for true believers--and pro-lifers are true believers--platforms mean little. It is a small price to pay.

* Develop fair trade and corporate downsizing planks for the platform that reflect Buchanan's concerns but don't sell out Dole's beliefs.

* Give Buchanan a prime-time convention speech.

* Finance a Buchanan fall campaign to rally his supporters behind Dole.

All this may or may not work, but it's worth a try. The alternative is a disaster. Buchanan and his supporters are not going away--and the establishment better stop calling them names and give them a key to the castle.

You may wonder why I haven't mentioned Steve Forbes. Forbes' supporters are the best money can buy. Give Stevie a nice speech at the convention and his delegates will gladly join Dole. The issue here is Buchanan--and Dole better keep his sights on the leader of the brigades.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World