Buchanan up, Gramm down Louisiana caucuses: TV commentator victor in contest Gramm had to win.

Campaign 1996

February 08, 1996

PAT BUCHANAN'S smashing victory over Phil Gramm in Louisiana exposes deep ideological differences between social conservatives and economic conservatives in the Republican Party.

As he heads for next week's all-candidate Iowa contest, Mr. Buchanan touts himself not only as a "conservative of the heart" but the "Huey Long of the Nineties." He is a populist, protectionist, isolationist, ultra-nationalist and an enthusiastic baiter of big business -- in other words the antithesis of Republican orthodoxy.

Mr. Gramm, in contrast, is a free-trader, a budget-balancer, an internationalist and libertarian. In short, a conservative of the head or the pocketbook. He calls himself pro-life but cannot bring Buchanan-like zeal to the cause. The Texas senator encouraged next-door Louisiana's effort to upstage Iowa and New Hampshire, figuring it would make him the undoubted "conservative alternative" to Bob Dole. Instead, if he cannot finish better than fourth in Iowa next week, his candidacy is dead.

Mr. Buchanan's emergence is bound to be deemed a threat to the Republican Establishment and a boon to Clinton Democrats eager to see the GOP torn apart in the "cultural wars" Mr. Buchanan proclaimed in 1992.

While the chasm between the social conservatives and the economic conservatives is clear enough, the latter group is much divided. There are Bob Dole pragmatists who make no excuse for compromise as an essential of working democracy, Steve Forbes cultists willing to gamble everything on the flat tax and Phil Gramm fiscal hardliners ready to march lock-step with House Republicans.

Jack Kemp, a darling of the economic conservatives, has assailed Pat Buchanan as the voice of "neo-isolationism, neo-protectionism and neo-Charles Lindbergh American Firstism." William Bennett, he of "The Book of Virtues," accuses Mr. Buchanan of flirting with "fascism." Others have called him a "socialist," a candidate against GOP cuts in Medicare.

Huey Long would have loved it. The "Kingfish," who was dictator of Louisiana until an assassin's bullet cut short his 1936 challenge from the left to Franklin D. Roosevelt, was a "Share the Wealth" champion. Hardly the stuff of Republican orthodoxy, but nobody ever accused Pat Buchanan of that.

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