WASHINGTON -- The natives on the Republican right are restless again.
The failure of the GOP to make inroads on Democratic congressional strength in the midterm elections is being laid at the feet of President Bush by the party's far righties, who never had much use for him anyway. They are talking hopefully of a challenge to his renomination in 1992, but with one notable drawback -- they don't seem to have a serious candidate to run against him.
The one name getting the most circulation in these rather cramped quarters is one of the 1988 presidential campaign's biggest busts -- former Delaware Gov. Pete DuPont. DuPont, who like Bush was regarded as a flaming moderate when he was in the House, also like Bush found right-wing religion under the archbishopric of Ronald Reagan and became a true believer.
As Craig Shirley, deputy chairman of the American Conservative Union, notes, "The converts are the greatest zealots of all." But for all his new-founded conservatism, Shirley says, DuPont may not be the ideal candidate to bid for the votes of blue-collar Reaganites, a segment the right wing fears Bush is blowing with his flip-flop on taxes, which now might be called his flip-flop-flip. "DuPont has a cultural problem," Shirley says, "stemming from the fact his last name is DuPont and his first is Pierre," although he does make an effort to cope by going by the name Pete.
Other names being heard from the far right include full-time columnist Pat Buchanan, part-time columnist Jeane Kirkpatrick, retiring Sen. Bill Armstrong of Colorado and that other 1988 bust, Pat Robertson. When Shirley is asked whether he takes Buchanan seriously, he replies: "You mean as a commentator and analyst? Yes, I take him seriously."
Shirley and others on the right agree that the fact Buchanan has never run for public office is a strike against him, while noting that the speculation that he might be one doesn't hurt the circulation of his column or his considerable lecture fees.
Richard Viguerie, the far right direct-mail wizard who has always considered Bush an interloper in conservative ranks, says he would like to see Buchanan challenge the president in 1992 because "he may or may not prevail, but if he then runs in 1996 he will be a major player." Viguerie says he and friends are talking once again "about building a movement and electing a [true] conservative to govern, and I wouldn't be surprised if there weren't more than one conservative candidate in 1992." He notes that in a recent issue of Human Events, one of the bibles on the starboard side of politics, DuPont was favorably mentioned, but DuPont's Washington experience as a congressman bothers him, Viguerie says. "After Nixon, Ford and Bush, people who come from the Washington establishment are not for us conservatives," he says.
In any event, Viguerie says, the identity of a Republican challenger to Bush "is not something conservatives should be talking about to the press. We don't need the press to build up people," he says, and when the time comes, the right wing will be able to accomplish that task by way of direct mail and other new political communications methods developed by that segment of the party.
With Bush's original switch on his no-new-taxes pledge, Viguerie says, "I could see somebody running just on taxes exclusively." The same notion has struck Howard Phillips, head of the Conservative Caucus and another of the perennial far right. He is trying to form a taxpayers party that would rule out "any and all federal expenditures which are not specifically authorized in the U.S. Constitution," and possibly run a presidential candidate in 1992. He says he has "a much higher opinion of Governor DuPont than I did before 1988," but he's not committing himself to anyone yet.
Still another far-right player, Don Devine, suggests that David Duke, the Louisiana former Ku Klux Klanner, is likely to run for the publicity and as a vehicle for all the anti-Washington sentiment in the country and the anti-Bush sentiment on the far right.
To all this, Paul Weyrich, head of the conservative Free Congress Foundation, scoffs. "Republicans are monarchists at heart," he says. "No matter how much they dislike the king, they will stay with the king." He says the noise on the right always comes from the same people, and that's what it always amounts to -- just noise.
Columnists Germond and Witcover, members of The Evening Sun's staff, also appear in the Perspective section of The Sunday Sun.