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GOP Won't Underestimate Clinton

Patrick B. McGuigan Published: March 25, 1993

HALEY Barbour, of Yazoo City, Miss., was elected chairman of the Republican National Committee on Jan. 29. His task is to bring Republicans back from last year's loss of the presidency, building on modest gains in congressional and state elections.

Barbour, while visiting Oklahoma City last month to address the Republican faithful at the state GOP Convention, stopped long enough for an interview with The Oklahoman.

He is not shy with assessments of the campaign. Former President George Bush ultimately "should have learned that compromising with that Congress is like paying the cannibals to eat you last. In the end, you've got no benefit. The tax increase is the classic example.

President Bush ultimately agreed to a tax increase because he thought that was what he had to do to constrain spending. He gets the tax increase, loses his credibility on one of the threshold issues of his election, and then doesn't get the spending restraint in the end! ...

If you have to keep feeding the tiger, sooner or later you have to feed him your children. " Still, if the campaign had been run better, could Bush have won?

"Sure. There's no single thing that was the proximate cause of Bush's losing. If the economy had been better? I have friends that used to say, 'There's nothing wrong with Bush's re-election that 4 percent growth wouldn't cure. ' Interestingly, we had 4 percent growth by Election Day, but people didn't know it.

"So, with a puny economy, with having broken the tax pledge, with dissatisfaction among a lot of his supporters about increased regulation, increased spending, increased taxes, with a lackluster campaign, with the perception among people that they didn't know where Bush wanted to go, they didn't know where he wanted to take the country - all of those things were present. Had they not all been present, he might have won. If only one or two of them had been present, I think he clearly would have won.

"He might still have won if people had understood in November what they understand today, that Bill Clinton, that 'new kind of Democrat', is a Democrat who wants to raise taxes hundreds of billions of dollars, raise spending $160 billion, and call that a 'deficit reduction plan. ' " Another factor "was the press coverage. ... People didn't know the economy was growing as fast as it was. ... It was interesting that 80-something percent of the economic news as presented by the media in October was bad, and 86 percent of the economic news as presented by the press in December was good. I don't think that's a coincidence. " Barbour is hopeful about the 1994 congressional elections and the 1996 presidential contest: "If we can regain our position in this country as the party of principle and the party of ideas, that will be our strength. ... (I)f Clinton's government growth package is any indication, we're going to have plenty of opportunities to show the American people the differences between the Republicans and the Democrats. People understand ... that we don't have a $300 billion deficit because we tax too little. It's because we spend too much. ...

"Principle and ideas. ... (W)e have an obligation to oppose the spending increases and the tax increases, because they're bad for the country. But, it is a huge opportunity for us, politically. " He believes time will make the Reagan-Bush era, particularly the Reagan years, glow in memory: "(T)he 1980s were good. The Reagan policies of economic growth through low taxes, and peace through strength, worked. Those Reagan policies brought about the collapse of communism, the demise of the Soviet Union, the end of Russian hegemony in eastern Europe, and democratization of that part of the world, and victory by the West in the Cold War. Those are the direct results of Reagan's policy, that Bush supported, of peace through strength.

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