Kemp leaves Dallas amid speculation about his plans for '88
Dallas — Although the largely social gathering of Republican Party faithful gives few clues as to who will next lead their party, it is clear even amid the cheerful celebrations that the GOP now has two choices for its future.
It can follow the ideological forces of the right that are trying to reshape the party's basic tenets, much as Ronald Reagan has done during his political career.
The most visible spokesman for this movement, Rep. Jack Kemp of New York, had been planning for months to make the convention a showcase for his philosophies. He largely succeeded by making his imprint throughout the party platform and generating some enthusiasm on the convention floor, where some delegates wore Kemp '88 buttons and waved Kemp signs.
The Republicans' other option is to move toward a more traditional choice, based on the personal appeal of a well-respected GOP leader. That decision would move the party toward Vice-President George Bush, who shone in reflected Reagan glory here.
For now, however, Mr. Bush is confined to the concerns of 1984 and loyalty to President Reagan. His own views about the future of the party must be kept in storage, while he stumps for the Reagan view.
''He's got to determine where his soul lies,'' Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum (R) of Kansas told reporters this week. ''I'm not sure where it lies.''
Meanwhile, New York's Jack Kemp is free to pursue unabashedly his quest for the presidency.
Speaking to reporters at breakfast yesterday, Kemp avoided saying he was seeking the White House and instead pointed to his crusade to change his party's tone and philosophy. Of the cheers and placards that greeted his brief convention speech he said, ''I would characterize it as excitement about some of the ideas I've been expressing.''
But he added that ''I didn't see a whole lot of signs'' for some other speakers. In fact, few of the other presidential hopefuls have generated much notice this week, except for Kemp and the vice-president.
Kemp, who represents the outlying areas of Buffalo, N.Y., has become one of the best-known members of Congress. At this conservative-leaning confab, two delegate surveys showed him as the second choice, after Bush, for president in 1988.
Unlike other Republicans, such as Senate majority leader Howard H. Baker Jr. of Tennessee and Sen. Robert Dole of Kansas, Kemp has not made his mark as much in Congress as outside of it. His 13 years as a pro-football quarterback gave him name recognition, and he has spent most of his energies as a publicist for his economic theories, criss-crossing the country to speak to almost anyone who will invite him.
An inveterate optimist, he argues that most of the American and world economic woes can be solved by cutting taxes, pumping more money into the private sector to create jobs, and reducing interest rates.
Deficits worry him much less than they do traditional conservatives, if deficits worry him at all.
''My goal has not been to balance the budget as much as to get the country moving again,'' he said. As long as the economy is growing, the deficit is manageable, he argued.
If that is not strict conservatism, then neither does he much like that label.
''Frankly, 'conservative' conveys an attitude of status quo,'' he told reporters. The word is ''more exclusive than inclusive.''
Nonetheless, Kemp agrees with most of the views of the New Right on strong defense, resisting communism abroad, and reducing the government role in the economy.
But he is difficult to pin down on social issues such as abortion.
He votes with the right-to-life faction, but rarely discusses the subject. At breakfast on Thursday, he danced around the social issues agenda, saying he didn't agree with every word in the GOP platform.
The congressman's one weak area is foreign policy experience. He attempted to shore up that weakness at the convention by heading the foreign policy subcommittee for the platform, even as he fashioned many of the economic and defense planks.
But in the area of foreign expertise, it would be hard to compete with former UN ambassador and Central Intelligence Agency chief George Bush.
It will also be difficult for Kemp to outshine Bush if both the election and the next four years are successful for President Reagan.
For now, the mood of the party is fluid. The Republican heart belongs to Reagan, and even many delegates who sported ''Kemp'' buttons and hoisted signs here are saying that four years is a long way off.