WASHINGTON — PRESIDENT Bush, bracing for battle with Democrats in 1992, first will have to fight off conservatives in his own party.The conservative movement - which propelled Ronald Reagan and Mr. Bush into office during the 1980s - is angry and frustrated with the Republican White House. "The level of conservative furor against Bush is just phenomenal," says Burton Yale Pines, senior vice president of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. L. Brent Bozell III, executive director of the Conservative Victory Committee, charges that Bush has abandoned his conservative supporters. The anger on the right now is taking tangible form. This week, conservative columnist Patrick Buchanan is expected to launch his drive for the Republican presidential nomination by entering the New Hampshire primary. Mr. Buchanan, who has hammered Bush on issues like foreign aid and taxes, could potentially embarrass the president in New Hampshire with as much as 40 percent of the vote, analysts say. But Buchanan isn't the only threat. State Rep. David Duke of Louisiana, a candidate even further to the right, announced last week that he would challenge the president in primaries across the nation. If he loses, Mr. Duke threatened to launch a third-party campaign to undercut Bush in the general election. Conservatives have gradually come to the conclusion that "this is not a conservative administration," Mr. Bozell says. "On economic policy, there is not a bit of difference between him and the Democratic Party. In fact, Democrats are the ones championing conservative issues like tax cuts."
Reversal in the polls Such criticism has crashed down on the president with surprising suddenness. It comes at the end of a year in which Bush won a war against Iraq, and in which he enjoyed the highest poll ratings (above 90 percent) of any president in modern political history. The major reason for his problems is clearly the economy. Unemployment is stuck at 6.8 percent. Millions of middle-class workers are being forced to take lower-paying jobs as manufacturing, banking, and other industries move to other nations. Meanwhile, with the budget deficit moving to record heights, the administration's hands are tied. The major weapon Bush has left against the recession is lower interest rates, but rates have already been cut sharply with little immediate effect. The right wing of the Republican Party, however, has complaints about Bush that go well beyond the current recession. Many conservatives are ready to try someone new. Mr. Pines explains why. "There is a sense of betrayal" among conservatives, he says. "Bush inherited a country that was very healthy under Reagan, and he has botched it." The president failed, first of all, by raising taxes in 1990. "Conservatives were told they raised taxes to get the deficit down.... But now taxes are up, spending is up, and the deficit is up. So Bush gave away the most important issue conservatives had, the economy and lower taxes, and the deficit is now $100 billion more than projected." Conservatives are also angry about regulation, Pines says. Especially small-business men. "They are screaming like crazy. The big guys can hire lawyers and accountants to deal with all these new regulations, but small business cannot."
A strength diminishing The third area of disgust is foreign policy. After a major war, Iraqi President "Saddam Hussein is still around.... As the military success fades into the past, we wonder what we got out of it. This guy [Saddam Hussein] is thumbing his nose at us. Does he have nuclear weapons? And we say, 'Didn't we have him on the ropes?' So foreign policy doesn't carry much for Bush." Conservatives are also puzzled by Bush's affinity for Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. "He is the last supporter of Gorbachev," Pines observes. At the same time, conservatives are "upset with the snubbing of Boris Yeltsin during the coup." Bozell observes that some of the Democrats running for the White House, including noncandidate Mario Cuomo, the governor of New York, have given stronger lip-service to a capital-gains tax cut (a favorite conservative issue) than Bush. Bozell says: "This administration has condoned the largest government growth in history, while raising taxes, which was a broken promise." On foreign policy: "Bush did a marvelous job with the war, but has since made himself subservient to this New World Order nonsense, wherein the United States of America takes its lead from the United Nations," Bozell says. On social policy: "With the exception of abortion, Bush has not only done nothing for conservatives, his administration has endorsed the left for example, by funding arts programs that condone pornography. In response, Bush protests: "I think of myself as a conservative." Vice President Dan Quayle, himself a conservative, will apparently be sent out to convince voters of Bush's right-wing credentials. But Bozell responds: "Good luck. It would be like proving it snows on the Equator."