on the World Today
IT IS the opening scene in High Noon all over again. Here come the Republicans, lean, tough, determined men riding hell for leather into town on a mission of revenge. Inside Democratic Washington, shop doors are being slammed and locked. Mothers are shooing excited children off the streets. And the town’s leading citizens are muttering angrily about the breakdown of law and order. It’s the marshal’s fault, they are saying, and he ought to be replaced. The marshal is grim and tight-lipped as he walks forth to face the gang that is out to get him. It is going to be a showdown at the national corral, and the only question in our minds as we settle back to enjoy the show is whether it will be their lives or his’n.
According to this script, Lyndon Johnson now faces the ultimate political crisis of his life. And the whole thing has about it the quality of true tragedy because it is a crisis largely created by his personal flaws. His White House staff is deserting him because he is impossible to serve. He has allowed his Administration to become old and tired. He has wrecked the national Democratic Party. His house is divided and open for conquest. “The fact is,” says Theodore Sorensen, “there is not now a single state in the Union which can be counted on as safe for Democrats in 1968.”
The Republicans, on the other hand, are in great shape all of a sudden. In the general election last November they gained 47 seats in the House, 3 in the Senate, 8 governorships, and 540 seats in state legislatures. GOP Chairman Ray Bliss has revitalized the Republican National Committee. The money is pouring in. A host of attractive new Republicans have appeared on the national scene. The party won elections in the five most populous states in November. And polls show that George Romney would defeat Lyndon Johnson if a presidential election were held today.
These are impressive, even startling facts, figures, and contrasts. But they obscure the larger, long-range truth that the Republicans are looking for a man who can both unite the party and win the White House; and political circumstance dictates that it is impossible to do both in 1968. It is this choice between possible victory and reunification which constitutes the party’s major, and perhaps insurmountable, dilemma.
In contrast to the Goldwater debacle in 1964, the Republicans won a great victory last November. But the comparison is largely irrelevant. The real tip-off is a comparison of the 1966 results with those of 1962. This shows little change in the alignment of party power — except in the South, where there were substantial Republican gains. It is an important historical development, because this was the first time that Southerners have voted Republican to any appreciable extent in local elections. But it is a development which also sows the seed of paradox and problem, because Republicanism is seeping down into local Southern politics at a time when the party’s national leaders apparently have concluded that it is the liberal path which will lead to national victory in 1968.
The threat in Wallace
Governor George Wallace of Alabama stands in the middle, and nobody can ever accuse him of not sounding his alarm loud and early. Wallace says he will run for President himself unless the Republicans come up with some reasonable conservative alternative. Wallace’s motives — ego, a Peck’s-bad-boy desire to make trouble, a yen to see just what would happen if a presidential election were thrown into the House of Representatives, or a combination of all these — do not actually matter. His threat is real, and it is obvious that the Republicans have not yet decided how to respond to it.
As a third candidate, Wallace would hurt the Republicans, for he would take most, if not all, of the South away from them. But the Republicans will give away all chances of national victory if they nominate a candidate conservative enough to keep Wallace off the ticket. Ronald Reagan of California could contain Wallace in 1968, just as Barry Goldwater did in 1964, but would lose the election and tear the party apart again.
What about Richard Nixon? He has done his missionary work in the South, and he has Goldwater’s personal support. Southern Republicans like him just fine, but this does not mean that George Wallace will find him an acceptable alternative. To the contrary, all indications are that Wallace will enter the race if Nixon is nominated.
The inescapable conclusion to be drawn from this is that the Republicans should swallow hard, write off the South, and pick a man who can whip Lyndon Johnson on his own big-state Northern preserve. But will they?
The Republicans led such an indolent life until Johnson fell on bad times. They were impoverished aristocrats existing on welfare payments. Now they’ve struck it rich again, and they don’t quite know what to do about it, except to murmur “Thank God” and re-open old charge accounts at every store in town. The party would have been better prepared to use all this sudden wealth if it had come somewhat later, when a new generation of leaders—just arising now — could have taken control over it.
First of all, there is the question of what to do about Governor Romney. He is good-looking, he is a really sincere guy, he wins elections, and he comes out well in polls. But conservative Republicans don’t like him, and if the truth be told, neither do the liberals. Nobody has defined the deficiency yet, but there are many who believe that eventually it will display itself — and prove fatal. Some of his fellow Republicans think he is a square. They consider him pontifical and sellrighteous. They note with considerable apprehension the hostile reaction he causes among national political reporters.
Nonpartisan political experts in Washington are convinced that, unlike 1964, the next Republican presidential nominee will be decided by the polls and the primaries in the spring of 1968. Nixon currently has more delegate strength than any other candidate. Delegations from Southern and Mountain states will control about half the total vote at the next Republican convention, and if those proceedings were held today, Nixon would receive most of it. (The South’s new muscle comes from bonus delegates awarded to those few states which Goldwater carried in 1964. At the 1968 convention, 26.7 percent of the delegate strength will be Southern and 19.7 percent will be Western. Eastern strength lags behind Southern, at 26.6 percent, as does Midwestern, at 26.4 percent.)
But Nixon could turn out to be the Robert Taft of 1968, for above all else, Republicans are lookingfor a man who can win. If the primaries (it would seem that Nixon cannot avoid the necessity of entering some of them) and the polls show that Nixon is that man, he will be a shoo-in. But if they point to another candidate, then his delegate support in the West and even in some Southern states, such as Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas, will fade away.
So Nixon and Romney both must go to the public to secure control of their party, and if they fail, the party will look elsewhere. Some people already are looking to Charles Percy of Illinois, for example.
There is one other possibility, and that is Nelson Rockefeller. His liabilities are huge and famous. He is old hat. He has sworn on a stack of New York state budgets that he will never be a presidential candidate again. The divorce issue is still there, in the background. His victory in New York last November was not an impressive one. And Goldwater disciples will never forgive him.
But Rockefeller impressed many people with his political conduct this winter, and some Republicans are beginning to discover a strange new attractiveness about him. (“Why, you know, when you take off your glasses, why . . . why, you’re beautiful!'')
Perhaps it is his refreshing don’t-give-a-damn attitude. Perhaps there has been unexpected growth. Perhaps party leaders realize deep within that voters who don’t like Johnson personally largely approve of his domestic programs, and thus the GOP is going to have to search farther off to the left to find the man who can defeat him. Whatever, there is some renewed interest in Rockefeller. But there is a good deal of uncertainty about whether it will lead to anything.
The Republicans may not have their man yet, but they are sure he will appear sooner or later, and in the meantime they are trying to prepare for the coming.
The money is rolling in
Ray Bliss, the national committee chairman, basically is an incommunicative, small-town Republican who has made no attempt to articulate the party’s position. He has his enemies. He runs a closed shop, and there are those who charge that he is trying to bring the party completely under his control. But no one denies that he has made some constructive organizational changes.
The money is rolling in since Lucius Clay was persuaded to become fund-raising ambassador to the fat cats. And, as one Republican puts it, creation of the new Republican Coordinating Committee “has brought the party barons together so at least they have to talk to each other.”
Furthermore, the Republicans are going to be making more noise this year. The national committee has given the nation’s twenty-five GOP governors $100,000 to open a Washington office. And the expectation is that the party will get some starquality performances from Percy, Edward Brooke of Massachusetts, and Mark Hatfield of Oregon, once these glamorous new Republican senators start speaking out on the issues.
Republican congressional leader’s had pretty much decided what these issues were to be even before Congress reconvened. They will wait for future events to determine the party’s position on Vietnam, for they believe Johnson will be vulnerable in any event. They are going to pound away all year long on the question of presidential credibility, for they are convinced this is the best single issue they have.
Even before the new session began, Representative Melvin Laird, the chairman of the House Republican Conference, was predicting that the Administration would try to hide the true cost of the Vietnam war again this year.
Most of all, congressional Republicans have decided that the best moral support they can give their upcoming candidate — whoever he may be — is a fresh new record of constructive opposition to present Administration programs which avoids the usual old charges of obstructionism. Few party leaders on Capitol Hill really believe that their continuing program to share federal revenue with the states has any chance of success. But they think it might improve the party’s image.
But so much of all this is patchwork and guesswork that at present even the most sincere well-wisher is forced to assume a wait-and-see attitude.
Can the Republicans really administer enough effective, betweenthe-rounds first aid to their battered old pug of a party to enable it to come out fighting at the bell?
Can they find the man they need? (He must be around somewhere, sitting behind some mahogany desk, just waiting.) Can he bind the party behind him?
Most of all, can the Republican Party within the next two years convince the nation that it would be able to install a national Administration capable of meeting the problems of the day — including, most definitely including, Vietnam? Fortyfour percent of the electorate is still Democratic. Only 29 percent is Republican. The rest is independent and must be won.
“It’s there for the winning,” one anxious young party Turk says. “The biggest fear we’ve got is that Johnson will decide not to run.”
— Douglas Kiker