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MediaWatch: April 1995

Vol. Nine No. 4

Handicapping the GOP in '96

Passionless Pachyderms

Journalists see a 1996 GOP presidential field of a few pragmatists and a gaggle of unsavory conservatives. In the March 6 Newsweek, Senior Editor Joe Klein thought the field lacks charisma: "Eight lumpen pachyderms who performed their first casting call for the massed New Hampshire GOP on President's Day eve. Their inelegant, passionless pokiness was a surprising turn for a party that, from Reagan to Limbaugh to Gingrich, has been the prime incubator of vehemence in American politics."

As usual, liberal Republicans garnered the better coverage. Sen. Arlen Specter's 1992 National Tax Limitation Committee rating was 50 (out of 100) and his Children's Defense Fund rating that year was 90. But Time's John F. Dickerson claimed March 13: "Specter offers a mix of fiscal conservatism and social libertarianism." After being booed in Iowa, "he was convinced by that rebuke that the social extremism that had so disturbed him during the 1992 GOP convention had taken control of the party." Time said Specter's "biggest plus" is that he is "pro-choice." On March 6, Newsweek's Jon Meacham and Andrew Murr found Pete Wilson's problem: "Another political liability is that Wilson is no antigovernment zealot....Wilson's record underscores how the GOP's turn right makes it difficult for pragmatists to campaign in the Republican primaries. That's because saying what it takes to win (government must shrink) is not always what it takes to govern."

Sen. Phil Gramm received the worst press, best demonstrated by Time Austin reporter S.C. Gwynne's personal attack in the March 13 issue. "Maybe he just can't help himself. Phil Gramm, the Robespierre of the Republican right and a man with a startlingly real shot at the presidency, just can't seem to avoid making people mad....He is driven, instinctive and fanatically goal-oriented; he is often insensitive to appearances and unwilling to listen to his peers."

Gwynne added that Gramm is "ill-suited to national exposure. He is, by his own description, `ugly.' He speaks in a deep drawl that calls to mind the often grating cadences of Lyndon Johnson. Combine that with his certain endorsement by many right-to-life groups, and an image emerges of an ungainly, deep-fried reactionary with little chance of carrying the moderate vote on Election Day."