The Republican Implosion

After the New Hampshire primaries, Robert Dole had to go back to trudge his stony path, denied the joys of the victor but permitted the escapee’s sigh of relief. Pat Buchanan’s jacquerie had horridly lit up the regular Republican estate with burning barns; even so, its manor house stands singed, damaged but not yet sacked and ruined.

Defeat is, of course, always an embarrassment, however tiny its 1 percent margin. But even the triumph of anyone else is a portent of catastrophe when Dole, shield of the old Republican order, Buchanan, tribune of the rebellion against it, and Lamar Alexander, symbol of such order as vaguities may be taken to represent, each ends up with roughly a quarter of an electorate’s votes.

The Republicans can only writhe in their torments through to November and to one of those disasters that now and then fall upon every political party and leave it with no consolation except their history of impermanence. Nominate Dole, and your best hope is to avoid the worst that was Landon vs. Roosevelt, 1936. Nominate Buchanan, and you virtually ordain Goldwater vs. Johnson, 1964.

Nominate Alexander, and you must get ready for Mondale vs. Reagan, 1984. Senator Eugene McCarthy once said that Walter Mondale was born to be a vice-president. That remark was unjust to Mondale; those curious to see a vice-president ready for the bloom would better look to Alexander, who seems planted to flourish that office’s indignities from the very seedbed.

Nothing could have more luridly illuminated the agony of the Republicans than the taunts and hectorings of Democrats who came to New Hampshire to shoot the wounded. On their way to do their part in a Bisquick pancake-flipping contest the day before the primary, Alan Keyes, Bob Dornan, and Steve Forbes, transitory candidates all, had to pass through teemings of Democratic pickets chanting in unison, “Four More Years.” Of all three words calculated to reduce tender spirits to tears, the lachrymosting are “Four More Years.” The Republicans invented that slogan to crow over Democrats ground under their heels in the Nixon, Reagan, and the first Bush campaigns. Now the Democrats have their turn for torturing the soon-to-be-subjugated; and the impulse now as then is to cry out, “Don’t shoot; the poor fellows are dying.”

The President showed up in New Hampshire some days before the primary to waste his day on a mixture of virtuous preachments with wicked mockeries of the stricken. He traveled through roses, roses all the way; and vast throngs roared with gratitude when he listed his achievements as the Family Leave Act, more money for Head Start, and the Volunteer Corps. Never had gruel so thin been piled with such towering dollops of whipped cream and cherries and been so zestfully gobbled up. But then Bill Clinton owes his current majesty not to who he is but to who he thankfully isn’t.

No one has more acutely summed up the case than Dole did at …

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