Outcome leaves both parties at sea Changes: Opposing factions vie for control of a rudderless GOP, while Clinton must set an agenda for his term under the spotlight of multiple investigations.

November 06, 1996|By Jack W. Germond | Jack W. Germond,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton's runaway re-election to a second term has left the Republican Party a leaderless coalition of disparate -- and sometimes antagonistic -- political factions.

But, perhaps because it was a triumph so easily achieved, Clinton's Democratic Party also emerges from the election with its own identity far from clear.

The president never spelled out an agenda for his second term because he never felt pressured to do so, ensuring that as an instant lame duck he will be subjected to continuing tugging and hauling over the direction of his legislative program.

Clinton now can claim far more of a personal, if not policy, mandate than he was given four years ago, but his ability to influence liberal Democrats not totally satisfied with the first term hasn't been enhanced.

And the president faces months, perhaps years, of dealing with investigations of his conduct and that of many members of the White House and Democratic National Committee staffs.

The investigations will be given new impetus with the continued Republican control of the Senate that seemed apparent on the basis of incomplete returns.

But the Democratic problems are picayune against those confronting the Republicans today.

The dimensions of the president's success were imposing enough to ensure an agonizing struggle among Republicans to define their future direction.

And, given the backbiting and sniping already under way among Republicans, it is clear there is no consensus on why Bob Dole failed so completely or what, if anything, he might have done differently.

The core of the problem for the Republicans is that they lack anyone who can make a legitimate claim for national leadership.

Defeated at 73, Dole is yesterday's news in the coldly pragmatic world of national politics. His running mate, Jack Kemp, also is in no position to assert national leadership after having outraged social conservatives with his preoccupation with supply-side economics.

And Republican leader Newt Gingrich will be blamed widely enough for the party's defeat in the presidential race that his position as the GOP's ranking national official will be largely hollow.

By the last month of the session, congressional Republicans were going to great lengths to separate themselves from their leader. Some, for example, cast "no" votes on routine procedural business in House sessions so they could lower the percentage of times their votes agreed with those of the speaker.

Although lacking leaders, the Republicans are left with three competing centers of power.

One is the religious right represented by the Christian Coalition, which can claim a role in salvaging some electoral votes for Dole in states such as Texas, Oklahoma and Alabama. The case of the religious right, already being made by television evangelist Pat Robertson, is that Dole did not go far enough in stressing the social issues -- opposition to abortion rights and homosexual rights, support for prayer in the schools, home schooling -- in making his case against a president widely distrusted by the electorate.

On the other side, however, are the Republican governors who are moderate on social questions even if devoutly conservative on fiscal and tax matters. This group would include Pete Wilson of California, Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey, William F. Weld of Massachusetts, Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania, George E. Pataki of New York and Jim Edgar of Illinois.

The returns provided strong evidence to support their claim that Dole went too far in allowing the Christian Coalition to influence the party -- and cost the Republicans at all levels in defections by moderate Republicans, particularly suburban women offended by the hard line against abortion rights and the moralistic tone of the party leadership.

The dimensions of those defections were obvious in such contests as those in New Hampshire, where late polls found Dole winning less than 60 percent of the votes of self-identified Granite State Republicans who have consistently been extremely conservative on tax and spending issues but far less so on social questions.

The most striking example was the election of Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, a three-term state senator, to the governorship.

She won more than one-third of the state's Republicans after she made the case that her GOP opponent, Ovide Lamontagne, was too extreme in his opposition to abortion rights and his willingness as head of the state board of education to tolerate the teaching of creationism in the schools.

Similar defections were obvious in normally Republican suburbs of such cities as Philadelphia, New York and Chicago where Democrats were running even with or ahead of Republican House candidates despite being far behind in party registration.

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