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Jewish World Review / May 12, 1998 / 16 Iyar, 5758

Roger Simon

Roger Simon Just who is 'Mr. Republican' these days?

WASHINGTON -- The Republican Party has reached a crisis point.

It gives every appearance of being adrift and leaderless (which is how the Democrats looked not all that long ago).

President Clinton symbolizes the Democratic Party, but who symbolizes the Republicans?

Among those many Republicans named as potential presidential candidates in 2000, nobody stands out as a clear leader of the party. Bob Dole, far better liked now than when he was running for president, gets more publicity for touting Viagra than for proclaiming any Republican principles.

In Congress, the Republican leadership has produced, as the Democrats like to jest, one big result this year: They changed the name of Washington National Airport to Ronald Reagan National Airport.

Worse, the Republican Party lacks any clear vision of what it is or what it wants to be. And it is Republicans who are most often heard making this assessment.

Bill Clinton, even in the midst of several accusations of serious scandal, towers over the political landscape with no Republican sharing the stage with him in opposition.

More ominously for the Republicans, Clinton since 1992 has nudged, tugged and kicked the Democratic Party toward the center of the political spectrum to the point where it now seems to represent the mainstream of America rather than the loony left.

Through a large and highly skilled media apparatus, the White House also sells on a daily basis the message that the Democratic Party is the party concerned with promoting and protecting education, the environment, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

And that last issue will take on a bigger and bigger role as the year progresses.

Just as Bill Clinton was successfully able to portray the Republicans as the ravagers of Medicare in 1996, he will portray them as the plunderers of Social Security as we head toward the November congressional elections this year.

And, so far, the Republicans are cooperating.

House Speaker Newt Gingrich now says he wants to use half of the growing federal budget surplus to provide tax cuts.

Bill Clinton says he wants to make sure Social Security, which is scheduled to go bankrupt by 2032, is reformed and rescued before the budget surplus is spent.

So once again, the Democrats intend to paint the Republicans as the party that does not care about the retired and the elderly and would rather give tax cuts to the wealthy than protect the ordinary citizen.

The Republicans favor tax cuts not just because it is conservative dogma and not just because they believe individuals should have greater control over the income they earn but because the Republican Party is having a hard time finding any other issue to coalesce around.

There is great tension in the Republican Party between the fiscal conservatives, who think the party should be about issues like taxes and trade, and the social conservatives, who believe it should be about opposition to abortion and support for "family" values.

Aside from the ideological gulf, there is a tactical gulf within the party: Gingrich now clearly believes that attacking Clinton for what Gingrich calls his "crimes" is the way to energize the Republicans and give them an issue.

Others are not so sure. Nobody has ever been able to successfully use the character issue against Clinton. Womanizing, the draft, smoking pot, Whitewater, Paula Jones -- it's all been tried on Clinton, and it has never made a dent.

But will Ken Starr be able to give the Republicans the ammunition they need? Will he be able to use Monica Lewinsky to finally pierce Clinton's protective shell?

Newt Gingrich sure hopes so. He is betting on it.

Even though Clinton's name won't be on any ballots in November of this year or November 2000, Gingrich is convinced Clinton is the man to run against in both races.

Bill Clinton wants to make both races a referendum on good times.

Newt Gingrich wants to make them a referendum on Bill Clinton. He figures it is the best shot -- perhaps the only shot -- the Republicans have.


5/7/98:"Why Clinton keeeps "going and going and going""
5/1/98:"Bubba v. Tabacka"
4/29/98:"You may ask, but should they tell?"
4/24/98:"McCurry and the kids from the ‘hood "
4/23/98: "NOW" should change its name to "THEN"
4/20/98: Freedom to be a jerk?
4/14/98: Bill is Hef's kinda guy
4/7/98: South African memories --- and a paradise not yet found
3/24/98: Bill's 12-day safari
3/20/98: Peace for Ireland?
3/18/98: Flat tire? Spare me
3/13/98: Latrell Sprewell's genius
3/10/98: On truth and reality
3/5/98: No, I'm not harrassing Hillary
3/3/98: The Unforgettable Henny Youngman
2/26/98: Grow up, boys!
2/24/98: Go get 'em, Bill!
2/19/98: My 15 minutes
2/17/98: The manic-depressive presidency
2/12/98: Drip, Drip, Drip
2/10/98: Clinton tunes out the networks
2/5/98: The flight of the Beast: America's love-hate relationship with scandal
2/3/98: Speaking Clintonese
1/29/98: What the president has going for him
1/27/98: Judgment call: how Americans view President Clinton
1/22/98: Bimbo eruptions past and present
1/20/98: Feeding the beast: Paula Jones gets the full O.J.
1/15/98: Let's get it over with: it's time to deal with Saddam, already
1/13/98: Sonny Bono is dead, let the good times roll
1/8/98: Carribbean Cheesecake: First couple has cake, eats cake
1/6/98: PO'ed: a suspected druggie jumps through the employment hoops
1/1/98: Cures for that holiday hangover
12/30/97: Buy stuff now
12/25/97: Peace to all squirrelkind
12/23/97: Home for the Holidays: Where John Hinckley, never convicted, will not be
12/18/97: Bill's B-list Bacchanalia: Press and politicos get cozy, to a point
12/16/97: All dressed up... (White House flack Mike McCurry speculates on his next career)

©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.