Whatever happened to Lyndon LaRouche? Two months ago Mr. LaRouche grabbed the headlines when two of his followers captured major Democratic nominations in Illinois. LaRouche, a former Marxist and sometime candidate for president, predicted even greater things to come. Yet little has happened since.
LaRouche's political organization, the National Democratic Policy Committee (no relationship to the Democratic Party), has fielded dozens of candidates in primaries in Texas, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and other states. They have lost almost every contested race. News media interest has waned. LaRouche, after a flurry of public appearances, faded back into obscurity in his guarded, $1.3 million mansion outside the small Virginia community of Leesburg.
Terry Michael, press secretary to the Democratic National Committee, says the LaRouche victories in Illinois were obviously a ``fluke.'' Says Mr. Michael:
``We are optimistic that voters have gotten the message, and they are going to reject out of hand any LaRouche candidates.''
LaRouche spokesman Mel Klenetsky disputes that view. ``Our influence is growing,'' he says, even though later results do not bear this out.
Besides recent disappointments at the polls, LaRouche faces various legal challenges. Most recently, NBC went to court to force him to reveal who pays all his bills -- for his country estate, for his armed guards, even for his food.
LaRouche claims that he has no idea who pays his bills. He also says he has no personal assets and is unable to pay a $202,000 judgment the courts ordered him to give NBC in 1984.
A more serious problem for LaRouche over the long term, however, could be his failure at the polls. A new study by two political scientists at Furman University in Greenville, S.C., appears to support the view that LaRouche may have hit his political peak. The study, conducted by Profs. Jim Guth and John Green, attempted to find out what kind of people give money to LaRouche.
In a telephone interview, Dr. Guth said that LaRouche contributors fall into an extremely narrow, alienated category of the American electorate. The contributor group is so small, in fact, that it is unlikely the LaRouche movement could ever grow into a major organization, Guth says.
The Guth-Green study found that most contributors to LaRouche are male, white, and over 55 years old. Many are retired. Most of them grew up in the Midwest or Northeast, in rural areas or small towns. They were raised as mainline Protestants, but today most of them are not religiously active. Many of them moved in later life to the Sunbelt.
Most of the LaRouche contributors have comfortable incomes. A large number of them attended less prestigious schools, where many of them studied the sciences: engineering, chemistry, physics.
This interest in technical matters may have helped draw some of them to LaRouche because of his support for nuclear energy and ``star wars'' development.
Guth and Green note that LaRouche's National Democratic Policy Committee has raised more than $2.5 million from about 100,000 people over a 10-year period.
Using a random sampling technique to question a cross section of these contributors, the professors determined that although LaRouche runs as a Democrat, most of his contributors call themselves independents.
Most claim to be ``very'' or ``extremely'' conservative. The majority seem to hold far-right views on social and foreign policy, but more-liberal views on economic policy.
The contributors appear to support LaRouche's contention that there are various conspiracies that endanger the United States. The researchers found that about half of them, when questioned, said that among the groups they consider to be ``dangerous'' to America are communists, illegal drug dealers, Jews, and intellectuals.
Professor Guth says that the LaRouche supporters are sometimes labeled far right, but that they are ``very different from other right-wing groups.
``These LaRouche people are very cynical, very disillusioned, very alienated,'' Guth says. ``They have very low levels of trust in political and social institutions. . . . When asked about the future of the country and their own personal future, they were very pessimistic, which isn't true of any other activists on the right.''
Says Guth: ``Compared to the LaRouche group, the Moral Majority folk [of the Rev. Jerry Falwell] look like eternal optimists. The Moral Majority is very mainstream by comparison.''
For all these reasons, Guth and Green conclude that the LaRouche movement has probably gone about as high as it can go. The United States, by and large, is an optimistic country, says Guth.
He notes that even liberals, who might be expected to feel most gloomy after six years of rule by President Reagan, remain strongly optimistic about the future of the country and their own personal lives. Moderates and conservatives are even more upbeat.
There's just no place in that kind of polity for LaRouche to find a large following, Guth says.