By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The diagonal strategy simply isn’t working out. Running a campaign to Tom Campbell‘s right would mean duking it out over issues he cares less about -- abortion, gay rights, the environment. If he got into a general-election campaign with Dianne Feinstein, Unz could scramble then and score her for anti-immigrant bias. But the primary campaign would be driven by a hard-right attack on Campbell on the basis of social issues. He might damage Campbell, or even wrest the nomination from him in such a campaign, but he’d also leave himself vulnerable in the general election to voters who have not looked kindly on anti-choice, pro-gun, anti-gay conservatives.
The other, lesser-known candidates have made it clear that they will go after Unz for his zigzagging politics. San Diego Supervisor Bill Horn‘s campaign manager, Scott Taylor, refers to Unz as the ”Uncle Fester“ of Republican politics. That comment is a signal that a turbulent ride awaits him. ”The guy is a flake,“ says Ed Costa of People’s Advocates, a conservative public-policy group in Sacramento. ”He is the Republican version of Jerry Brown.“
”I operate much more like a journalist than the typical campaign consultant or politician,“ Unz said when I first met him in August. Now his close identification with the press, his exulting over all the ”free media“ he‘s won, his proffering of newspaper clippings as if they were irrefutable Exhibit A, documented proof that he is a force to be reckoned with, seems a little inadequate.
”Look at what I’m faced with,“ Unz says sadly. ”I‘ve made a commitment to the people in Arizona to provide a couple of hundred thousand dollars for an initiative against bilingual education there. I’ve got the campaign-financing initiative. I want to put something on the ballot in New York. And on top of that, I‘m a candidate for the Senate with a credible opponent.“
Unz clicks off these challenges as though it has come as a surprise to find that a major candidacy might be a burdensome, time-consuming, gut-wrenching event. His cheerful sense of abandon, of manifold political possibilities, which I’d encountered in meeting him in August, has virtually vanished. ”I‘ll admit that I feel the pressure,“ Unz says. ”Any person who was doing even half of what I’ve done would be lying if they said they didn‘t feel it . . . And it doesn’t feel very good.“
Unz‘s dilemma -- as he’s poised to send out 200,000 pieces of direct mail attacking Tom Campbell as a liberal hostile to core Republican views -- reminds me of a discussion we had a few months earlier about Pat Buchanan. Unz at the time parsed Buchanan‘s decision to bolt the Republican Party and run for president in the Reform Party of Ross Perot. ”Remember,“ Unz recalled then, ”Buchanan started out as a pro-immigrant free trader and ended up the most anti-immigration protectionist.“ How did it happen? I asked. Unz put forward his theory: Buchanan had gone out campaigning in New Hampshire when he challenged then--President George Bush in 1992, ”and he felt sorry for those people“ who had lost their manufacturing jobs. The circumstances of the campaign, Unz surmised, thoroughly altered the shape of Buchanan’s political views.
Unz suddenly seems wary of having something similar happen to him -- of becoming a shuttlecock in a game that is far more complex, as it turns out, than he understands yet. He could tank as a candidate, placing at risk eight years of relentless effort and making a waste of his investment of much of his fortune. Without a role in politics, Ron Unz would be thrown back to a business that doesn‘t interest him and a life organized almost entirely, for the past 15 years, as an effort to create a place for himself in the country’s public sphere.
Unz is trapped in a conundrum of his own making. Does he go ahead with the anti-Campbell mailing? Could he re-craft the message of the letter to encapsulate the issues he‘d rather address -- affirmative action, multiculturalism, immigration? Can he drop out of the race, and shore up his efforts on the campaign-reform measure in a way that isn’t humiliating and politically damaging?
Strategy games can‘t tell him. The former allies left behind can’t be consulted, and the new allies can‘t be expected to understand his larger political goals. He’s a resolute individualist, so no organization, or constituency, can help him decide. Diagonals don‘t often intersect neatly, the way a social reformer might wish. Ron Unz has to figure out, all on his own, which of the jigsaw pieces matter most to him now.