Crowded on the Right

March 21, 1995

The right side of the road to New Hampshire is getting crowded. Television commentator and newspaper columnist Pat Buchanan announced yesterday that he is a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. He is the most right wing of the entrants so far, which is saying plenty.

Texas Sen. Phil Gramm is about as conservative as they come in the Senate -- in voting record and in rhetoric. Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole began the year referring to himself as "kinder and gentler," which some took to mean more moderate. But under pressure from Senator Gramm, Senator Dole has moved right of his own record: In a matter of days he denounced affirmative action and promised to repeal the assault weapons ban. Expect him to denounce gays in the military soon -- something he chose not to do in the past.

Tennessee's Lamar Alexander was a moderate governor, but he seems to be redefining himself as a conservative. Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar votes conservative, though not as consistently as either Senator Dole or Senator Gramm, and his rhetoric is not as tailor-made for the right wing of the party as theirs, but he is right of center, and would be a more conservative president than George Bush.

California Rep. Bob Dornan is right wing enough to be Rush Limbaugh's fill-in from time to time. He is a Buchanan clone. Neither is going to do well. Ultra-conservative Baltimore radio talk show host Alan Keyes will do even worse (but at least his candidacy will educate voters that African Americans are not all liberal Democrats).

The only candidate not on the right side of the road to New Hampshire so far is Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. He is in fact slightly left of the center line. He is certainly out of touch with the broad membership of his party. Still, he may do well in New Hampshire, if all the conservative candidates get some votes. But once the conservative field reduces itself to one or two candidates, as it will shortly after New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary, Mr. Specter will be road kill.

He may be before that. Gov. Pete Wilson of California, who has been sounding more conservative on the issues lately, appeals to many moderates. He is expected to announce his candidacy in two weeks. Given his California base, he may be more electable than Messrs. Dole and Gramm, and if he stays on the right side of the road, he may create a center-right coalition that would be hard to beat.

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