When Ann Richards was governor, Texas Republican party chairman Fred Meyers barraged her administration with criticism and prepared the way for George W. Bush to defeat her last November. Now that Bush is governor, he too is the target of barbs from an angry state party chairman. Only this time it’s not the opposition party that’s sniping at him—it’s his own. The new leader of the state GOP, a four-time loser for public office named Tom Pauken who forced Meyer out of the job last June, has criticized Bush for appointing conservative Democrats to high-profile positions in his administration. A Pauken ally with the State Republican Executive Committee even proposed a resolution critical of Bush.
The split between Bush and Pauken—it is more than a disagreement but less than a feud—is emblematic of the main problem facing Texas Republicans as they verge on taking over the state. They still haven’t decided who the real enemy is: the opposition party or the opposition faction within their own party. The old division of the early sixties between Nelson Rockefeller and Barry Goldwater continues to cleave the GOP into two wings. Call them traditionalist conservative and ultra-conservative, establishment and populist, or even natural fiber and polyester: However you define it, the Bush-Pauken squabble threatens the unity that made the GOP such an effective force in unseating Ann Richards. Of course, it was Republican disunity that helped elect Richards four years earlier.
The biggest difference between the two factions is that one of them wants to use the government and the other has no use for government. Bush is a traditional conservative. He has an ambitious legislative program, and he knows he can’t pass it unless he wins the confidence of Democrats, who control the Legislature. By tapping Democratic East Texas legislator Elton Bomer as insurance commissioner, Bush sends the signal that he’s serious about being bipartisan. One would think that the Republican party chairman would be pleased that the GOP won Bomer’s seat in a special election and edged closer to controlling the state House of Representatives. But to ultra-conservatives like Pauken, the episode revealed Bush as a pragmatist—a buzzword in ultra-conservative circles that refers to someone whose ideological purity is suspect.
Although the Bush-Pauken split has taken place behind the scenes, Pauken’s views about Republican politics are public. It so happens that he has recently written his memoirs, The Thirty Years War: The Politics of the Sixties Generation. Ostensibly the title refers to Pauken’s long battle in the conservative trenches against “New Left activists who remain committed to their objective of a radical transformation of American society.” But while Pauken’s intended target is the left, his aim—and, even more telling, his contempt—is frequently directed at the Republican center: Ann Richards is a “committed leftist,” but Richard Nixon had a “corporate liberal” mind-set.
As a window into the mind of an ideologue, The Thirty Years War reveals the fate that has befallen the American political center. Pauken intimates that throughout his career, from military service in Vietnam to tours of duty in the Nixon and Reagan administrations, it is not the New Left that has most consistently stood in his way. It is the moderates on his own side, who, in his own view, have kept the war from being won, whether it is being fought in Southeast Asia or Washington, D.C. “It is truly a time for choosing sides,” he writes. Anyone who doesn’t approach politics with a total-war philosophy is giving aid and comfort to the enemy.
George W. Bush falls into that category—and so does George Bush the elder. When I told the governor that Pauken had written a book, he immediately asked, “What did he say about Dad?” The answer is, nothing good. Writing of his 1984 clash with Jim Baker, President bush’s longtime friend and Ronald Reagan’s chief of staff, over Pauken’s controversy-filled tenure with a federal poverty program in South Texas, Pauken says “My break with the George Bush-Jim Baker wing of the party had become irreversible.” He goes on to say, “What George Bush and his closest advisers didn’t seem to understand is that America at the end of the twentieth century is in the midst of a cultural war, and whoever sits in the office of the presidency has the ability to influence the outcome of this conflict.” Substitute “governor” for “presidency” and you have the basis for the division that plagues the Texas GOP today.
Pauken became a political activist as a student at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., in the early sixties. The origin of his involvement was religious rather than secular, which no doubt explains the zeal he has maintained ever since. A Jesuit institution whose faculty was deeply divided over whether to follow conservative or liberal theology, Georgetown was a place where a student might study the works of Thomas Aquinas in one class and the works of dissident theologian Hans Kung in the next. It was truly a time, as Pauken writes, for choosing sides, and he chose to join a small but dedicated group of traditionalists. His heroes were William F. Buckley, Jr., whom the liberal priests wouldn’t allow to speak on campus, and Barry Goldwater, and both would influence his approach to politics. Pauken heard Buckley denounce the “Liberal Establishment”—the center of American politics—and made it his lifelong enemy; he heard Goldwater polarize political dialogue and made it his lifelong style: “Goldwater did what so few politicians are willing to do—he talked about issues in terms of black and white, rather than the grays people were accustomed to hearing,” Pauken writes.
Pauken’s view of politics is that consistency and principles are virtues, which is true, and pragmatism and compromise are vices, which is false. Politics must have all of these. “The time for the final showdown between the conservatives and the New Left is drawing near,” he writes toward the end of his book. But if history teaches us anything about politics, it is that there can never be a final showdown.