Early last month, as the pundits and analysts turned their attention to the GOP convention, few noticed the battle lines being drawn within the right itself. Except for the papering over of the Republicans’ disagreements on abortion at the convention, the right appeared to have won the day in setting the GOP agenda. During the platform hearings, Bay Buchanan and Phyllis Schlafly — respectively manager and co-chair of the Buchanan for President campaign — pushed through nearly the whole of Pitchfork Pat’s program, most of which flowed from the minds of the right’s idea men.
The acceptance speeches of Bob Dole and Jack Kemp were rife with nods to positions advanced by such right-wing strategists as the Christian Coalition’s Ralph Reed, Gary Bauer of the Family Research Council, and Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation: taxpayer funding of religious and private schools, tax cuts for all, and tax incentives for childbearing. For rhetorical muscle, Dole lashed out at the teachers’ unions, the Internal Revenue Service, the World Trade Organization and the United Nations — all favorite targets of the right.
But as Schlafly and Bay Buchanan worked their magic in the platform hearings and Reed sidled up to the Republican nominees, fellow social conservative Weyrich issued a blistering attack on GOP leaders at a closed pre-convention meeting of the secretive Council for National Policy (CNP), an umbrella group of the right’s secular and religious leaders headed by former Attorney General Edwin Meese III.
According to the text of Weyrich’s remarks obtained by this reporter during an assignment for Ms. magazine, the right’s leading philosopher (widely credited with creating the blueprint for the GOP’s recent welfare reform bill) opened his August 10 address by deriding Jack Kemp as a “big-government conservative” who would help Dole only marginally, if at all. “What you have now,” said Weyrich, “is two candidates who are not going to run on the Republican Platform. And if I were the other side, I would simply crank up a debate between the just-passed platform and the two candidates running on it and make that the story for the rest of the election.”
“It’s very clear,” Weyrich added, “that a majority of the people in this country affirmatively do not want Bob Dole to be president.”
Weyrich went on to criticize Tom DeLay, Dick Armey, Trent Lott, and Don Nickles. But the bulk of his ire was reserved for House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who, Weyrich said, “never was trustworthy.”
“I will tell you that this is a bitter turn for me,” he lamented. “I have spent thirty years of my life working in Washington, working on the premise that if we simply got our people into leadership that it would make a difference…Now, I feel as if I have wasted thirty years of my life — I really feel that way.”
According to the text, the primary source of Weyrich’s anger is Gingrich’s threatened actions against Congressmen Bob Dornan of California and Chris Smith of New Jersey. These two signed a fundraising letter in support of an anti-abortion Republican primary challenger to incumbent Sue Kelly of New York’s 19th district. Kelly, whom Weyrich described as a “radical feminist extremist,” sits in the Republicans’ pro-choice camp.
The Speaker, of course, is trying to hold on to the seats he gained in the Republican revolution of 1994. According to Weyrich, Gingrich demanded that Smith and Dornan desist or face severe disciplinary action. Enraged by the Speaker’s “arrogance,” Weyrich then called upon his CNP conferees to defy Gingrich by throwing their weight behind Kelly’s challenger, former Congressman Joe DioGuardi, and went on to urge his allies to see to it that their members of Congress sign a “Resolution of Conscience” now being circulated in the Republican Caucus that would prohibit such punishment. “Many of you have media outlets. Make this an issue. Many of you have outreach. Make this count. Others of you have influence because you have been contributors to some of these people. Put them on the carpet on this,” Weyrich pleaded.
In a 1990 speech to the University Club, Paul Weyrich had outlined a wedge-issue strategy for felling the enemies of the right which he termed “constructive polarization” — the putting forth of policy proposals “that build conservative constituencies and divide liberal ones.”
The divisions that now exist on the right all but beg for a liberal turn on Weyrich’s strategy. Ironically, the wedge was set by the candidacy of Pat Buchanan, who divided the right’s moral idealists from its political pragmatists, and called for an economic nationalism that is antithetical to the supply-side, trickle-down economic theories long embraced by the right’s moneymen.
The day after Weyrich’s speech to the CNP, Pat Buchanan’s divisive influence was again on display. At an event at the California Center for the Arts, Buchanan’s faithful, still stinging from the prospect of a Pat-less convention, sat spellbound, eager for orders to march their cause outside the stakes of the GOP’s “Big Tent.” But when Oliver North, hero of the religious right, made an appeal for party loyalty, he was mercilessly booed. Even Buchanan was heckled by his own troops as he tried to herd them back into the tent. “U-S-T-P!” they chanted, invoking the initials of the hard-core United States Taxpayers Party, with which Buchanan enjoyed a tortured flirtation throughout the primary season and in the weeks leading up to the convention.
It could be argued that had Buchanan the candidate never existed as a point of comparison, the current Republican leadership wouldn’t look nearly so awful to Weyrich, who, despite his string of recent successes, has chosen to take on some of his most powerful allies in Congress.
Adele M. Stan is a contributing writer to Mother Jones. Illustration by Mark Zingarelli.
Read the full text of Weyrich’s CNP speech.