REPUBLICAN conservative Patrick Buchanan, battling George Bush in the New Hampshire presidential primary, already has won an important political victory, analysts say.
Mr. Buchanan, despite scant support among Republicans nationwide, is setting the agenda for the 1992 GOP campaign - forcing Mr. Bush to argue about Buchanan's themes and ideas.
When the president denounces protectionism against Japanese goods, a Buchanan credo, that puts the fight on Buchanan's turf. When Bush rails against across-the-board tax cuts, as he did Wednesday on a trip to New Hampshire, that's the topic Buchanan wants to debate.
"The focus right now is on Pat's issues - foreign trade, protectionism, taxes, and so forth," says Republican strategist Edward DeBolt, president of the DCM Group in McLean, Va. "So if Pat's purpose was to influence the dialogue of the Republican Party, he has already succeeded."
Thomas Mann, a senior political analyst at the Brookings Institution, suggests the Buchanan-Bush struggle could wound the party.
Because of Buchanan's attacks, particularly on foreign trade, Dr. Mann says: "Bush has compromised his position, and is pandering now and trying to look like Buchanan and many of the Democrats, and he looks foolish," as he did in Japan.
In New Hampshire, Buchanan's dogged campaigning appears to be paying off. A New Hampshire poll by American Research Group of Manchester Jan. 9-12 found Bush dropping 10 points in the past two months to 46 percent. During the same time, Buchanan's support in the Granite State climbed to 30 percent. A large number of Republican voters there, 24 percent, were undecided.
Analysts admire Buchanan's political style - "He is a charmer, glib, and can run circles around Bush," Mr. DeBolt says. But Buchanan should not get too much credit; he is "getting the benefit of the backlash to George Bush" on the economy, DeBolt explains.
During his trip to New Hampshire, the president conceded: "I know I've got big problems. But we're going to take care of those problems by demonstrating what I feel in my heart."
GOP pollster Ed Goeas and Democratic pollster Celinda Lake this week jointly released a new nationwide survey which shows just how big Bush's problems are.
The number of voters who think the nation is pointed in the right direction has plunged to 14 percent. Those who believe the country is moving in the wrong direction has risen to 69 percent. Boost for the other guys
Pessimism is strongest in the Northeast and Central Plains (77 percent saying "wrong direction"). In recent weeks, even groups thst had been optimistic, such as young people and college graduates, have turned gloomy.
"These numbers should serve as a wake-up call to the White House," Mr. Goeas says.
Democrats see new hope against a president weakened by his battles with Buchanan and by the poor economy. "One party's misfortune is obviously the other's advantage," says Ms. Lake. "We see this as an enormous opportunity."
The key is the economy, and that is where Buchanan is directing his fire. His general theme can be summed up: Put America first.
Buchanan strongly opposes Bush's "free trade" policies, which he contends are costing the US jobs and economic primacy.
"Mr. Bush, you recall, promised to create 30 million jobs," Buchanan told one New Hampshire audience, according to a news report. "He didn't tell us he would be creating them in Guangdong Province, Yokohoma, or Mexico." Conservative planks
Buchanan pushes a 10-point program that seems to be resonating in New Hampshire. His basic platform promises to:
1. Phase out foreign aid. "Charity begins at home," the platform states.
2. Play hardball on trade talks. No open doors for nations that shut out US goods.
3. Defend America first. Rich nations like Germany and Japan should pay for their own defense.
4. Cut tax rates. Lower taxes will "create millions of new jobs."
5. Veto tax hikes. Also veto any congressional pay raise.
6. Freeze federal spending. Bush raised social spending "faster than at any time in 60 years."
7. Keep America strong. "America's armed forces must remain first ... but we must also become first in industry, manufacturing, and standard of living."
8. Ensure equal justice. "All quotas in federal agencies and programs will be abolished."
9. Limit terms for politicians. "If eight years is long enough for a great president, it is long enough for a mediocre congressman."
10. Restore America the beautiful. Protect the nation's natural beauty, while also "cleaning up the pollution of America's popular culture." Fight for "voluntary prayer in the public schools" and lead the "fight for life" in Congress and the courts.