Bush camp perfects battle plan

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AS PRESIDENT George Bush promised to produce 'the most stirring political comeback since Harry Truman', the Republican Convention here is turning into an all-out assault on his Democratic opponent Bill Clinton, a foretaste of what promises to be a campaign of unequalled roughness this autumn.

The biggest guns in the party are levelling on the Arkansas Governor, from Mr Bush himself to Vice-President Dan Quayle, former president Ronald Reagan, and the right-winger Pat Buchanan, now firmly back in the fold to fight the common enemy.

In a slashing prime-time attack on Mr Clinton, Mr Buchanan accused him of every sin in the conservative book, from favouring gays, abortion on demand and lax moral values to draft dodging. He was not of the stature to become president, Mr Buchanan said. His foreign policy experience had been limited to 'having had breakfast once in the International House of Pancakes.' Mr Buchanan weighed into Mr Clinton's wife Hillary as a 'radical feminist', who had compared marriage to slavery and believed children to have the right to sue their parents.

In the 'family values' argument which the Republicans are now playing, Mrs Clinton will be portrayed as the polar opposite to 'America's Grandmother', Barbara Bush, the most popular Republican in the country and her husband's greatest asset in his stumbling re-election campaign.

Later on Monday night, Mr Reagan delivered his own critique of Mr Clinton, implying once more that the Governor did not measure up to the job he was seeking. Attempting to dispel suspicions about his own support for Mr Bush, Mr Reagan called him a man of 'serious purpose, unmatched knowledge and ability'. The presidency was 'serious business and we cannot afford to take a chance', he said.

More assaults were on the way last night, as the convention's second day focused on domestic policy. Senior party figures were out to portray Mr Clinton's economic strategy as more of the tax-and- spend liberalism which had failed in the past.

Most heartening of all for a party desperately trying to convince itself that Mr Clinton's current 15 to 20 per cent lead in the polls is not irreversible, is the newly found belligerence of Mr Bush, who has swept into Houston having shed his old listlessness and lack of purpose.

Evoking Harry Truman's celebrated 'give-'em-hell' campaign in 1948, Mr Bush will be directing much of his fire against an obstructive, do-nothing Congress. At a barnstorming welcome rally on Monday evening, Mr Bush denounced the Democratic majority on Capitol Hill as 'crazy guys', to whom he had held out his hand 'only to have it bitten off'.

Party managers were confident yesterday that Mr Bush's newfound sharpness and aggression would generate a real convention 'bounce' that would reduce Mr Clinton's advantage by the time the campaign starts in earnest in September.

But tensions in Republican ranks over the uncompromisingly right-wing platform approved on Monday continue to simmer. Last night many delegates were still unhappy about the stern anti-abortion plank, which Mrs Bush may seek to soften in her appearance tonight. Largely out of resentment at the grip conservatives have taken on proceedings here, more than a quarter of Republican senators and congressmen have not come to Houston at all.

Expectations are dwindling of far-reaching initiatives from Mr Bush in his acceptance speech tomorrow night. The White House is playing down talk of tax cuts; neither Mr Reagan nor Mr Buchanan even mentioned the topic.

(Photograph omitted)