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Robertson Rips Reagan in Bid for Support on the Right

October 18, 1987|ROBERT SHOGAN | Times Political Writer

SEATTLE — Seeking right-wing support for his long-shot presidential candidacy, Pat Robertson shattered the harmony of a Republican leadership conference here this weekend with a scathing attack on the Reagan Administration that did not spare even the First Lady.

Referring to his wife, Dede, as "a (Robert) Taft Republican" who "does not like Communists," Robertson told about 500 party activists from 13 Western states: "I want to set your mind at ease. She has never suggested that I make an accommodation with the Soviet Union in order to win the Nobel Peace Prize."

This was an evident allusion to published reports that Nancy Reagan at various times has urged the President to reach an accord with the Soviet Union on nuclear arms to enhance his place in history.

Going for Shock Effect

Robertson, who announced his candidacy two weeks ago, seemed to be making a calculated attempt to shock or at least startle the audience, which heard from all six contenders for the GOP nomination during the three-day meeting that ended Saturday.

In a 30-minute address at a dinner session of the conference Friday night on Blake Island in Puget Sound, the former television evangelist began by declaring: "I thought I should tell you just what a Robertson presidency would mean and what I would do as candidate of the Republican Party for the presidency of the United States."

One member of his audience, pollster Linda DiVall, described his tone and pace as "frenetic."

Jabs at Baker, Shultz

Robertson was harsh in his criticisms of White House Chief of Staff Howard H. Baker Jr. and Secretary of State George P. Shultz, although he did not mention either of those two favorite targets of conservatives by name.

"I think, especially in the White House, that we should have somebody who is a conservative," Robertson said. "That is why I would like to see a chief of staff of the White House much like (Interior Secretary) Donald Hodel, rather than some moderate who would please the Washington Post."

Hodel has become a hero to many conservatives, largely because of some of his statements minimizing environmental problems have drawn fire from conservationists.

Vowing that he would "take immediate steps to discontinue the enormous influence" on the State and Treasury departments of "the Eastern liberal Establishment," Robertson said he would pick to be secretary of state "someone who would stand up for America instead of somebody who would try to move the nation toward a one-world socialist government."

Shultz frequently has been criticized by right-wing groups who consider his foreign policy views too moderate.

Robertson also made it plain that he would set a tougher foreign policy than President Reagan's. Referring to the apparent Iranian attack on a U.S.-flagged Kuwaiti tanker in the Persian Gulf last week, he said: "If I were President today, we already would have taken out those Silkworm missiles that came against one of our flag tankers."

Robertson said he would "use all the political muscle of the presidency to begin the decolonization of the Russian Empire." He added: "I would use all the arms and material supplies we could make available to those brave men and women who are fighting for freedom in Afghanistan, Angola, Mozambique--and particularly in Nicaragua."

Aimed at Conservatives

Near the end of his speech, Robertson joked, "This is my program for my first six days in office." He added, to general laughter: "And on the seventh day, I will take a rest."

Political professionals here said that Robertson, with his aggressive rhetoric, was trying to gain an advantage in his competition for right-wing support with New York Rep. Jack Kemp and former Delaware Gov. Pierre S. (Pete) du Pont IV. The conventional political wisdom is that only one of the three is likely to survive the early delegate contests next year and challenge the two leaders in the Republican race, Vice President George Bush and Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas.

"I think he was making a big move on the hard right," Chris Bowman, political director of the Republican National Committee, said of Robertson's speech.

Reaction was mixed. "I enjoyed it," said Tom Wiesner, Republican national committeeman from Nevada. "It was hard hitting, but at least he talked about what he would do as President."

Others were offended, particularly by the apparent reference to Nancy Reagan, who underwent a mastectomy Saturday. If Robertson's comments were aimed at the First Lady, Republican National Chairman Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr. said, "I think he should apologize."

Remarks From Others

The other candidates' speeches were less abrasive than Robertson's, but all of them had some tough things to say, particularly about foreign policy.

Bush urged support for the proposed U.S.-Soviet treaty to ban intermediate-range missiles, but nevertheless cautioned that the United States cannot afford to let down its guard.

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