GOP Prospects

The Republican Establishment.
by Stephen Hess and David S. Broder.
Harper & Row. 416 pp. $7.95.

It is just conceivable, come January of 1969, that the nation will have a Republican President. To be sure, if this eventuality does come to pass it will be less a Republican victory than a Democratic defeat. Though there are still more registered Democrats in the country than Republicans, party identification is a far more tenuous loyalty now than it once was and the Republicans sense that if they play their cards right they can attract enough Democratic defectors to win in 1968. The question, as always, is which is the best strategy.

The Republican Establishment is really two books in one, which accounts for both its length and its price. One of these (which might well have been printed as a separate Appendix volume) is an interminable list of the men who currently staff the party, surround its Presidential aspirants, and figure in local GOP councils. If you want an informative line or two on Thomas G. Judd, Robert J. McIntosh, or Robert H. Headlee, here is the place to find it. It may well turn out that Glen L. Bachelder will someday be an Assistant Secretary of the Interior, or that “apple-cheeked” Jonathan Moore or “licensed-pharmacist” S. John Byington or “tall, balding” Richard C. Van Dusen will in time shape our Latin American policies. The Hess-Broder conception of an establishment is generously democratic, and there is a lot to be said for such an inclusive approach at this time. The Republicans are becoming an open-door party rather than an exclusive club. They are enlisting talented people in dozens of states and scores of cities and are turning over to them responsibilities hitherto hoarded by the old-line stalwarts. Still and all, the average reader will wonder how familiar he is obliged to be with Thomas Houser, Allen J. Marrinson, and “lanky, well-connected” Calvin Fentress III.

The second volume between these covers is what some English reviewers like to call a “plum pudding” of a book. Here is intelligent reportage underpinned by a tremendous amount of useful information. The chapters on the four principal contenders—Romney, Nixon, Percy, and Reagan—are full but not fulsome portraits of imperfect men. (The authors make no hard predictions, but their decision not to give Rockefeller a chapter of his own is a prediction in itself.) There are excursions into Romney’s Mormonism, Percy’s Christian Science, and Reagan’s divorce—all the sorts of things one will have to know once the campaign gets underway. A useful effort is made to estimate the wealth of the aspirants. (Reagan netted $2 million by selling some choice real estate just prior to going to Sacramento. Percy has at least f 6 million from his Bell & Howell days, and Romney took a little under $2 million out of American Motors. Nixon has only his $200,000-plus annual salary.)

Perhaps too much space and sympathy are given to the more vacuous pronouncements of the four, but there are times when a lengthy quotation really reveals the man. Thus Romney at the 1966 Governor’s Conference, when asked about Vietnam:

Well, look . . . I . . . I think it should . . . the question is this—there’s been a great deal of interest in the governors’ position on Vietnam and would I give my views. This is not a simple situation. There are no simple answers. I’ve been there. . . If this conflict involves the question of stopping Communism, the international Communist conspiracy, and stopping it in South Vietnam, if this conflict is really being supported by the Red Chinese and the Russians, and if this really is naked Communism, international conspiracy, then I think we have to weigh the question of how much we can escalate without their continuing to escalate if we agree that’s the real issue. . . .

(Let me add for the record that I am not sure in my own mind about the journalistic ethics of transcribing unedited remarks directly from a tape-recording. Most of us fail to finish about a third of our sentences. But perhaps compunctions should be waived when it is would-be Presidents we are looking at.)

The best chapters are those depicting the continued presence of the Goldwater echelon, which has transferred its affections to the current governor of California. No one knows how many of these true believers will be at the 1968 convention or the power-balance they will wield there. But it can even now be assumed that the Reagan strategy, like Goldwater’s, is a quiet rounding-up of delegates in the thirty-six states which do not have primaries. Thus there is every possibility that 1964 will happen all over again: the moderates still undecided on their choice by convention time, while the conservatives happily concentrate their support on a single man. And it is for this reason that I think that Reagan has to be taken very seriously, not simply as a possible nominee but also as a potential winner next November.

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By the same token, the weakness of The Republican Establishment lies in its self-imposed establishment orientation. While the authors have spared no shoe-leather in visiting state capitols and campaign suites, they have not interspersed those trips with even some token interviews among garden-variety voters. Perhaps this job is best left to Samuel Lubell (how we have come to depend on him!) as he gently converses with housewives in Denver, truckdrivers in Providence, and retired insurance salesmen in St. Augustine. Yet this kind of pulse-taking is necessary, if only because the establishment’s view of the electorate may already be an outmoded one.

Leaving Nixon out of the picture, the real difference is between Romney and Percy and Rockefeller on the one hand, and Reagan on the other. The former three are typical Republican moderates in the Willkie-Dewey mold. They are not obsessed with the perfidy of Communism, and they are concerned over the plight of the nation’s less successful citizens. The old theory was that the GOP needed to nominate a moderate in order to woo away Democrats. While Willkie and Dewey lost, Eisenhower’s victory pumped life into the theory; and certainly Goldwater’s defeat renewed the idea that a winning Republican had to swim in the mainstream.

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But I am not sure that the mainstream is coursing where it once did. The trouble with Goldwater, of course, was that he went “too far” with his purblind conservatism. The strength of Reagan is that he used California—which is no longer an atypical state—as a laboratory for determining just where to stop before falling into the Arizonian’s abyss. Thus his moralizing is smoothly suburban rather than squarely small-town. If he speaks in hawkish accents, it is without being scarifying about atomic defoliation. And when he inveighs against big government, he stops short of dismantling Social Security.

If Reagan’s pitch is conservative in content, its importance is that it is a conservatism which made sense to a statewide majority. (He beat Pat Brown by over a million votes.) He knows that the majority of the Nacional electorate are white, own their own homes, and have graduated to the status of disgruntled taxpayers. He neither wants nor needs the votes of Negroes or intellectuals or those on welfare. Whether by intelligence or intuition, Reagan has concluded that an admixture of conservatism and populism is just what most Americans are ready for.

Thus his vendetta against the University of California was founded on a sound political premise: the majority of Californians do not want to pay taxes to support “quality” education of the Clark Kerr variety. While they may want their own children to go to college—en route to becoming accountants or engineers or branch managers—they have no commitment whatsoever to research, scholarship, or the accoutrements of the academic life. This is not to say that they are “anti-education.” Rather, their general view of what higher education is for (and this outlook is by no means confined to California) is to elevate their offspring into respectable middle-class careers. Beyond that modest ambition they have no desire to foot the bills.

What I am suggesting is that the old theory of the moderate mainstream assumed that an electoral majority would only rally behind a Republican candidate who accepted or at least espoused the civility of the Eastern gentry. (Even Nixon tempered the ardor of his anti-Communism to prepare himself for the nomination.) But today’s majority is more confident of itself, more impressed with its own ideas, and now expects to have its interests and prejudices appealed to by those who aspire to office. Hence the mild racist overtones to Reagan’s rhetoric, not openly anti-Negro of course but rather directed to the fears of householders that the resale value of their homes may plummet if undesirables are allowed entry to their neighborhoods. Hence the mild racist overtones to not so much on the moral evil of Communism as in supporting the many Americans who feel the need to affirm the devoutness of their patriotism. And hence his readiness to cut welfare and mental-health appropriations, knowing that most voters feel no identity with, or compassion for, society’s losers.

And hence my conclusion that Reagan could win not only the GOP nomination but the Presidency as well. He is already picking up convention delegates, and a good set of riots in the summer of 1968 could just muster enough fear and indignation to put him in the White House. (It is quite possible that George Wallace would withdraw in his favor, although it would take tremendous finesse on both their parts to allay the suspicion that a “deal” had been made.)

The conservative populism of Ronald Reagan is, needless to say, a very un-establishment strategy. And my reason for devoting as much time as I have to him here is that Hess and Broder’s perspective is that of the traditional establishment and their implicit assumption is that only a moderate Republican can win the 1968 election. They may well be right, but they could also be terribly wrong. The key to next November lies in the real fears and deep resentments which are beginning to agitate the working and lower-middle classes of white America. I don’t think that Hess and Broder know as much as they should about what is going on in the heart and mind of this mid-section of our citizenry. I am not sure that I do myself. But I think that Ronald Reagan does.

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