So much more than last time, GOP needs him


December 19, 1990|By ROGER SIMON

How would you like to be chairman of the Republican Party?

It pays well. You get a company car. The president calls you by your first name. And every morning, you get to walk Millie.

So how come nobody wants the job?

When George Bush was elected president just a little more than two years ago, the GOP looked unbeatable in the foreseeable future.

Yet today, the party is in disarray. It is floundering, leaderless, adrift.

Part of the problem is the illness of Lee Atwater. Atwater was an ideal party chairman. When he was just 20 years old, the age at which most guys are thinking about wine, women and song, Atwater was thinking about wine, women, song and the Electoral College.

"I developed a thesis, a dogma, a belief," Atwater once told me, "that if we in the Republican Party could develop a Sun Belt political base, plus the mega-state anchors of California, Texas and Florida, we'd have a 70 percent chance of winning the presidency until the millennium."

Atwater loved to say things like that. And he was already planning for the next millennium. He had what a party chief really needs: a monomania about winning that approached fanaticism.

But now Atwater is too busy fighting a brain tumor to devote himself full time to the job of party chairman. That, however, is only part of the GOP's problem.

The other part is George Bush.

When Bush reneged on his "no new taxes" pledge this year, he kicked the legs out from under his party. Overnight, the Republican Party no longer stood for anything.

In other words, it had become the Democratic Party.

This cannot continue. The Republicans did not do very well in the 1990 elections, and in just a few months the next presidential campaign begins.

So a party boss is desperately needed. But the Republicans can't seem to find anyone to take the job. They are pretty close to taking out an ad in the papers.

Bill Bennett had accepted the job, but then a few days later he backed out. Bennett, who had been secretary of education without solving the problems of education and drug czar without solving the problems of drugs, now wants to write books on how to solve the problems of both.

In America, this is what we call "expertise."

Other people have been asked to serve as GOP chairman and have refused. Nobody wants to get ensnared in the sticky web of internal politics that exists within the White House and the party.

But I have the perfect solution. What the Republicans need is someone with a fanatical commitment to party politics and a devotion to victory that has never been questioned.

What the Republicans need is the return of Richard Nixon.

And if Nixon did become the chairman of the Republican National Committee, it would be historically symmetrical. Because do you remember who President Nixon's party chairman was?

That's right: George Bush.

And Bush provided Nixon the same unswerving loyalty he later provided Ronald Reagan. You can check out the videotape yourself:

On May 3, 1974, Bush taped a segment of "Firing Line" with William F. Buckley Jr. The Watergate scandal was raging and Buckley asked Bush if he thought Nixon would resign.

"The president isn't going to do it," Bush said. "[Resignation] will not happen under any circumstances. . . . I don't think it's in the makeup of the man. I've seen the president a good deal lately and I just don't feel that's an option."

Ninety-nine days later, Richard Nixon resigned.

But that is the purpose of loyalty: If it isn't blind, what the hell good is it?

OK, OK, I know what comes to your mind when you think of Nixon. You think: dirty tricks, Watergate, Cambodia, obstruction of justice, abuse of power, high crimes and misdemeanors.

But, hey, at least you knew where the guy stood.

Besides, Nixon is completely rehabilitated. He has his own museum now. He has best-selling books. And reporters still make pilgrimages to his home to eat his catered dinners and kiss his ring.

Why would Nixon want to be party chairman? Three reasons:

1. He can always use a few extra bucks.

2. He could get on "Nightline" whenever he wanted.

3. They might let him stand on the White House lawn and flash the V-for-Victory sign one more time.

Why would the party want Nixon? Three reasons:

1. He's got a lot of name recognition.

2. He symbolizes everything the Republican Party once stood for.

3. He might know where the real White House tapes are hidden.

Personally, I think it is a match made in heaven. Though Nixon is almost 78, he appears to be in good health and could be expected to serve as least as long as Bush remains in office, however long that is.

It has been more than 16 years since Nixon left Washington and it is now time for him to return. If he does take the job, his acceptance speech would almost certainly be carried live by all the networks.

And he could use the opportunity to satisfy any fears that some might have about him.

"I am still not a crook," Richard Nixon could say. "And you can read my lips on that."

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