Almost like a game of cards in which everyone gets his chance, the national press periodically throws its deceptive spotlight on another of the so-called Republican compromise candidates for President: first, Michigan's George Romney; then reliable standby Dick Nixon; and recently Pennsylvania's Bill Scranton. The beam has now settled on Henry Cabot Lodge, ambassador to Vietnam.
The ray of light which helped boost Lodge to the front of the stage is a Newsweek pool of New Hampshire Republicans which shows him to be the "most popular candidate by far." While pollster Lou Harris notes that Lodge will suffer in tomorrow's primary because he is a write-in candidate, the ambassador's undeniable popularity and an unconfirmed report that he is an official candidate for the nomination have boosted speculation about the seriousness of his challenge.
Lodge's list of assets is an impressive one. In a campaign which undoubtedly will be dominated--if the Republicans have their way--by foreign affairs, he has a distinguished record. His appointment to the south Vietnamese post by President Kennedy was, in effect, a bipartisan recognition of this fact. And few will forget his highly successful years as ambassador to the United Nations.
In addition to his expertise in the foreign sphere, Lodge can claim a wide range of experience in domestic affairs. He was elected to three terms in the Senate, serving a total of 13 years. Before that he sat in the Massachusetts State Legislature for two terms. This full spectrum of experience would make him a tougher opponent for Johnson than some of the other possible nominees, like Scranton, for instance.
There are other important credits in Lodge's account. He looks like a president: his vigorous, dignified manner easily inspires confidence. He is considered very close to former President Eisenhower. (Lodge was instrumental in convincing Ike to run in '52 and then in helping run his campaign.) Ike's active support in '64 could be a decisive factor if the Republicans seriously think they can win.
His close relationship with Ike and his place on the 1960 ticket as vice-presidential nominee would seem to fit Lodge nicely into the role of compromise candidate. To effect a real compromise between the so-called extreme "liberalism" of Rockefeller and the extreme "conservatism" of Goldwater is almost indispensable for a Republican victory. Can Lodge, who has been aloof from most ideological haggles since 1960, best accomplish this binding? Or is real unification an unobtainable fiction?
The ambassador is not without his weakness. His very presence in South Vietnam limits his ability to criticize Democratic policies in South-east Asia. And despite his terms in the Senate, he has not recently stood out on most domestic issues. so far, his policy positions are question marks. Lodge was a part of the losing team in 1960, although he was not damaged as much as Nixon. Finally, a crucial enigma remains: can Lodge engineer and sustain a presidential campaign to compare with the vigorous offensive that President Johnson is certain to mount?
Only if he returns to the United States can Lodge answer this question, as well as others which will be asked by the party professionals: How does he stand on key domestic issues? How expertly is he able to combine liberal and conservative forces? How widespread really is his popularity?
If Henry Cabot Lodge wants the Republican nomination, he will have to come home and get it. A Draft Lodge movement, as it now exists, just isn't enough. the party professionals aren't likely to pass over such available and willing candidates as Dick Nixon or Bill Scranton for a tight-mouthed ambassador sitting 6,000 miles away in Saigon.