Sizing up the likely GOP candidates: Whose turn is it?

September 03, 1997|By JACK W. GERMOND & JULES WITCOVER

WASHINGTON -- In the years since the Republican Party last gave its presidential nomination to a political newcomer -- Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952 -- the GOP has had a track record of rewarding party service. If you're a good soldier and wait your turn, you get your shot.

That was true for Richard Nixon in 1960 as vice president and in 1968 as party cheerleader. It was true for conservative icons Barry Goldwater in 1964 and Ronald Reagan in 1980, and also for loyal Vice President George Bush in 1988. Finally, it was certainly true for Bob Dole in 1996.

Mr. Dole's campaign in fact used the slogan ''It's His Turn'' to remind Republican primary voters that he had waited, if somewhat impatiently at times, after the party had given the GOP gold watch first to Mr. Reagan and then to Mr. Bush.

So it's only in keeping with that Republican tradition to ask who ''deserves'' the nomination for the year 2000 presidential race. In terms of service to the party at the national level, former Congressman and Housing Secretary Jack Kemp clearly stands first in line. His outspoken preaching of supply-side economics made him a Reagan champion early on, and he was a loyal Reaganite in the ranks after having unsuccessfully competed against him for the Republican nomination in 1980.

Mr. Kemp remained a Reagan cheerleader while Mr. Bush was whining about ''voodoo economics,'' words he later ate in becoming Mr. Reagan's grateful running mate and vice president. When Mr. Bush in 1988 claimed his turn after eight docile years as President Reagan's understudy, Mr. Kemp did challenge him, but loyally joined his Cabinet team after Mr. Bush's election.

Last year, after having decided not to seek the presidential nomination for a third time, Mr. Kemp agreed to be Mr. Dole's running mate in what proved to be a thankless task. Not only did the GOP ticket lose, but Mr. Kemp in the process was trashed within the party for being an ineffective candidate, especially in debate against Vice President Gore, now regarded as the front-runner for the next Democratic nomination.

Mr. Kemp's original decision not to seek the GOP nomination himself in 1996 was a realistic commentary about how his popularity had eroded within his party. His endless preaching about bringing more racial and ethnic diversity to GOP ranks had become tiresome or annoying among many on the right.

A reversal of perception

The man about whom it used to be said he could be nominated by his party but could never be elected now was regarded as just the opposite: His reaching out to blacks and other minorities might make him more attractive to Democratic voters, but he'd have trouble getting the Republican nomination. That attitude continues to hang over Mr. Kemp among many of his old conservative supporters.

LTC Another ''deserving'' party loyalist is former Vice President Dan Quayle, who has impressed some as being a bit more mature since his four-year stint under Mr. Bush, during which he was plagued by a number of personal gaffes that suggested to many Americans that he was too light for the presidency.

Mr. Quayle, who has moved to Arizona, presumably to establish himself as a candidate of the West, may well have paid his dues to the party, but he still has a long way to go to convince Republican voters that he can shake his old, negative image, no matter how ''deserving'' he may be.

The year 2000 primaries will be the acid test for him.

Multimillionaire publisher Steve Forbes by no yardstick can claim that he deserves the 2000 nomination. His slash-and-burn campaign against Mr. Dole in 1996, in which he attacked most of the other Republican contenders as well along the way, gives him no special place in the traditional party practice of rewarding service to party with its presidential nomination.

But the GOP may not be handing out a gold watch in 2000. Some of its more attractive prospects, including Sens. Fred Thompson of Tennessee and John McCain of Arizona, are fresh faces, which may be what the Grand Old Party needs about now.

Jack W. Germond and Jules Witcover report from The Sun's Washington bureau.

Pub Date: 9/03/97

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