Voters stop flirting with fiery right

JOHN CARLIN

Dickinson County, Iowa

Is it the end for Dole? Will the Forbes bubble burst? What are the chances of a late run by Gramm, or Alexander? The answers to these questions, of consuming interest as they are to the political-cum-sports pundits commentating on the Republican presidential race, remain as inscrutable as the next Kentucky Derby winner.

Obscured by the dust of the electoral contest, a deeper truth lies hidden. The Republican Revolution, in full flood a year ago, has ebbed. The radical zeal that swept Newt Gingrich and his cohorts to power in the November 1994 Congressional elections is waning. No longer is the fuel that drives the party engine provided by the firebrand faithful of the Christian Coalition, whose message to congressional Republicans was "if you back us on abortion and family values, we'll bring our crusading zeal to bear on your efforts to slash the budget".

The message from Iowa, the state where the caucuses on Monday will test the support of the Republican candidates for the first time in the campaign, is that America, having flirted with fire, has shifted its affections back to the centre.

Rick Ayres, the chairman of the Dickinson County Republicans, in the farmlands of north-west Iowa, feels uncomfortable with extremists generally, and the Christian Coalition in particular. "I cringe when I hear the ultra- right sometimes. Especially on abortion. I don't feel it belongs in the political arena. If you are a victim of rape or incest, I'm all for it."

A year ago Mr Ayres might have been expelled for uttering such sentiments. Lonnie Saunders, a lawyer who chairs the Dickinson County Dole campaign, might have thought twice before saying that abortion was "gone" as an issue now. "Most people say 'I don't like abortion but it shouldn't be legislated,' " he said. "Dole is a typical middle-of-the-roader on this."

Steve Forbes and Bob Dole, whose barnstorming in Iowa has left them clear ahead of the rest of the field for the Republican presidential nomination, are resolute moderates who shun pulpit politics. Pat Buchanan, the Alf Garnett of US politics, is out of the running. Phil Gramm - the champion of free enterprise, scourge of illegal immigrants and the undeserving poor - strains to put a brave face on his predicament: he has raised as much campaign money as anyone but, as his single-digit poll figures indicate, the Gingrich message has already exceeded its sell-by date.

Mr Forbes has employed his vast family fortune to blitz the Iowa airwaves with his proposal for a flat income tax of 17 per cent. His principal appeal lies in his opposition to what he calls "the Washington culture". His success in selling himself as a political outsider, one whose money and reputation were obtained in the private sector, provides clear evidence that Mr Gingrich's Napoleonic congressional enterprise has left a bad taste in American mouths, a feeling of having been cheated. The budgetary row which prompted the Republicans in the House of Representatives to close down much of the federal government over Christmas and the New Year merely confirmed the growing suspicion that the Republican Revolution was merely another name for sordid, self-interested Washington politics as usual.

The conventional wisdom at the start of the presidential campaign might have been that such a message would not wash among the Republican faithful without a heavy sprinkling of fundamentalist Christianity. Yet Mr Forbes appears, if anything, to have benefited from treating the true believers with disdain.

On abortion, he has upset pro-life crusaders: he made his position clear in a TV interview last September when he said he wished "to help create an environment where abortion will wither away".

His position on homosexuals is no more appealing to the Christian right. Last week he was asked on the campaign trail in Iowa whether he approved of same-sex marriages. He replied: "If you want to live together, fine. If you want to have a life together, fine. But compassion is not approval."

Mr Dole suffers from the comparison with Mr Forbes on account of age, his reputation as a Washington insider and because he has been unable to shake off the image of man who has no clear policies, who will tailor his message to fit the opinion poll fashions. Yet that alone marks him out as a wet.

Compromise was a word unknown to the House members who set the Republican tone in 1995. But Mr Dole, the Senate majority leader, is a man whose middle name is compromise. He is a man who makes deals. No one knows for sure how hot his passion is for balancing the budget, for combating abortion, for reducing sex on television, for stopping Mexicans wading over the Rio Grande. And no one knows whether he will modify tomorrow the position he claims today.

Which means he occupies the mushy centre - which is why it is he and Mr Forbes, and not Mr Gramm and Mr Buchanan or the fading Mr Gingrich, who are battling today for the soul of the Republican Party.

Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Sport
The giant banner displayed by Legia Warsaw supporters last night
football Polish side was ejected from Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
news
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Java Developer - 1 year contract

£350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Cent...

Junior Analyst - Graduate - 6 Month fixed term contract

£17000 - £20000 Per Annum Bonus, Life Insurance + Other Benefits: Clearwater P...

SAS Business Analyst - Credit Risk - Retail Banking

£450 - £500 per day: Orgtel: SAS Business Analyst, London, Banking, Credit Ris...

Project Manager - Pensions

£32000 - £38000 Per Annum Bonus, Life Insurance + Other Benefits: Clearwater P...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone