Quayle labors to break into GOP's first tier

July 07, 1999|By David M. Shribman

CONCORD, N.H. -- Dan Quayle served two terms in the House. He won two Senate races. He was elected vice president. He represented the nation in 47 countries, the U.S. flag flapping behind him as he spoke at airport greeting ceremonies. So why now, here in this state of great green hillsides and fast blue streams, is a man with establishment credentials railing so against the establishment?

The answer reveals a lot about Mr. Quayle, about New Hampshire, about the modern Republican Party and about the character of the 2000 presidential race.

Recently, Texas Gov. George W. Bush barnstormed through the state as if he were Nathaniel Hawthorne's great stone face made flesh: the estimable, enviable, inevitable man, the one the villagers in the political hamlet had awaited for years. Even as he transformed the race, he transformed himself from a figure on the sidelines to a figure on a pedestal.

Not set in stone

But as one of the state's leading experts on political behavior, Robert Frost, might say: Something there is in New Hampshire that doesn't love a pedestal.

Mr. Bush, to be sure, is bolted onto the pedestal relatively securely right now. But when Mr. Quayle hurls stones against the pedestal, he's playing to a receptive audience that is small but significant.

That audience isn't the vast majority of Republicans here, who resemble the flinty caricature of woodsy independence less than at any time since the New Hampshire primary began in 1916.

Man of the right

Mr. Quayle's audience is religious conservatives, devout tax-cutters, doctrinaire opponents of big government -- just the sort of folks who carried the north country for Barry Goldwater in 1964. Mr. Quayle's campaign style, more than anyone else's in the race, underscores the strategies that animate the Republican contest in 2000. He is not trying to win the primary in this state, where the candidates resemble the description that 19th-century painter Benjamin Champney gave to the White Mountains: "a combination of the wild and the cultivated, the bold and the graceful." He probably can't win it. He is merely trying to emerge from the granite notches and hidden valleys as the candidate of the conservatives.

That wouldn't mean much except for the peculiar architecture of this race. Republican candidates think of the contest as a split-level house. On one level is the struggle among the establishment candidates -- Mr. Bush, former Red Cross president Elizabeth H. Dole, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, former Gov. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, probably Rep. John R. Kasich of Ohio. On the other is the fight among the conservatives -- Mr. Quayle, publisher Steve Forbes, Sen. Bob Smith of New Hampshire, social activist Gary Bauer, commentator Patrick J. Buchanan.

If the theory of the split-level campaign holds, the contest will be distilled to one establishment candidate -- or maybe two -- and one conservative.

That's why, on a radio show in Manchester the other morning, Mr. Quayle, now 52, went out of his way to note that Republicans weaken themselves when they choose the establishment candidate. His surprising example: 1976, when the GOP nominee was an incumbent president, Gerald R. Ford, rather than an insurgent challenger, Ronald Reagan.

That very year, Mr. Quayle, the boy candidate for the House, backed Mr. Reagan against the president of his own party, who eventually lost to Jimmy Carter. "Everybody said Reagan was too right-wing and too dumb," Mr. Quayle said. "Every once in a while when I get bad press, I think about what people said about Ronald Reagan. He did just fine."

Trailing the pack

So now Mr. Quayle -- far more gray hair at the temples, far more confident on the trail -- is a lonely figure, bounding around New Hampshire, sloshing against the wake of Mr. Bush. He's an outsider in a particularly difficult way for a man who once was a heartbeat from ultimate power -- outside the first tier of candidates.

But Mr. Quayle's very status as an outsider provides the ultimate lesson in modern Republicanism.

For years the Republicans were more a lodge than a party, handing the nomination to the senior figure among them: Richard Nixon, Mr. Ford, Mr. Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole. Custom would dictate that the nomination go to the former vice president. The fact that he's struggling as an outsider is proof of an important change in the party at the turn of the century.

David M. Shribman is Washington bureau chief of the Boston Globe.

Pub Date: 7/07/99

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