President Bush suffered fierce attacks from conservative quarters as the 1992 election year came to a close, and many on the right even celebrated his loss. Fine enough, but after the election the message on the conference circuit and on the nation’s op-ed pages was that conservatives’ great hope for 1996 is Jack F. Kemp.

The conservative “leaders” who say Kemp is the natural choice include columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak, for whom Kemp is a longtime source of information and leaks. “Out of the wreckage of George Bush’s botched campaign for reelection,” they wrote, “Jack Kemp has emerged as the clear Republican heir apparent.” Only he can “pull his party together.” Four days later, syndicated columnist Mona Charen chimed in. “Mr. Bush governed more like Michael Dukakis than like Ronald Reagan,” she wrote in the Washington Times, adding: “Now the party can do what it ought to have done in 1988—consolidate behind Jack Kemp.”

Kempophilia has spread outside conservative quarters. Barbara Jordan, the black feminist lawyer with the hybrid Texas-British accent and the most highly touted speaker at the Democratic Convention, was asked her opinion of Kemp’s social programs in World magazine. “I know Jack Kemp very well,” she answered. “I have no quarrel with the type of investment Jack Kemp talks about.” Henry Cisneros, his successor as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, told the Washington Times, “I admire a lot about Jack Kemp.” Such opinions add credibility to Fred Barnes’s claim in USA Weekend that Kemp is the “liberals’ favorite conservative.”

Kemp used the occasion of this post-election coronation to go after possible challengers to his presidential hopes. For example, he had this to say of Patrick J. Buchanan’s roundly denounced, but relatively mild. Republican convention speech: “Not good, not good, not good at all.” “The answer to L.A. is not more guns,” Kemp said. Buchanan “sounded like he wanted to line people up against the wall and shoot them.” Kemp confessed: “If that were my party, I wouldn’t want to be in it.”

If by that Kemp meant that those who loot private property should not be punished by death, it is a position held with some degree of self-interest. Judged by his tenure as Secretary of HUD, Kemp would already be six feet under ground. According to the Office of Management and the Budget, total HUD outlays shot from $19.6 billion in fiscal year 1989 to a forecasted $28.1 billion for fiscal year 1993, for a 43 percent increase. HUD spending as a percentage of the total budget increased from 1.1 percent to 2 percent in the Kemp years. In Bush’s last budget, HUD was the fastest growing cabinet-level agency in government. Clearly, Kemp managed to do what no liberal could have gotten away with. Yet on occasion, even liberals balked at some of his free-spending ambitions, such as his plans to give every poor person a housing project to manage at taxpayer expense and to vastly increase spending on the “homeless.”

HUD’s annual budget at the end of Lyndon Johnson’s full term in office was a mere 2.5 percent of Kemp’s. While liberals like to complain of “cuts” in HUD’s budget under the Reagan administration, these were only minor. Thanks to Kemp, however, the agency now spends well over twice the annual amount it did at the end of the Carter era.

Moreover, revelations of HUD financial irregularities under Kemp failed to elicit the kind of scorn directed at Samuel Pierce when problems cropped up during his tenure as Reagan’s director of HUD. In 1992, the Inspector General discovered an unreported surplus of $1.2 billion in the Section 8 housing subsidy fund. Yet, to get more money, Kemp had claimed a shortfall of $407 million. It was the third consecutive year that billions went unaccounted for. One month after the 1992 election, the Inspector General issued a new audit that warned “another HUD scandal is a distinct possibility.” Here’s to Business Week, the only periodical I know of that took note of Kemp’s poor management practices. “Kemp needs to spend less time proselytizing on conservative causes and more on HUD’s books,” suggested Christina Del Valle in her column. It’s no wonder Washington’s budget analysts were constantly shocked at Kemp’s enormous budget requests and at his griping at Congress for not giving him every dime he asked for.

Given her soft-socialist views, Barbara Jordan is right to have “no quarrel” with Kemp’s programs. For example, under the label of housing privatization, he arranged for the transfer of billions to nonprofits to “restore” public housing projects and then manage them, even as he continued to build more houses at taxpayer expense. In the name of Enterprise Zones, which thankfully never passed Congress, he wanted to force states and localities to pour more welfare into the inner cities in exchange for favorable federal-tax treatment.

After the L.A. (race) riots. Bush spokesman Marlin Fitzwater, in an unguarded moment, criticized Great Society programs for making blacks worse off. Of Kemp’s alleged alternative to the Great Society, only the New York Times came close to telling the truth. “Few seem to realize that Mr. Kemp’s plans in some ways are quite similar” to LBJ’s, wrote Times reporter Jason DeParle. His “housing proposals include heavy doses of social services like job training and anti-drug counseling. More pointedly, Mr. Kemp’s enthusiasm for community organizing bears a striking, if unconscious, resemblance to the War on Poverty.” In fact, the Great Society represented a compromise position that rejected the most extreme dreams of the left. More than welfare checks, the latter sector said, the underclass should get restricted home and business ownership. Rejected by Great Society liberals at the time, this extreme leftist view now has its champion in Kemp.

Would that Kemp’s welfare policies were “unconscious.” He consciously and frequently met with representatives of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), an Alinskyite organization to the far left of the political spectrum that advocates imposing race-based mortgage lending quotas on banks and other financial institutions. In the absence of explicit legislation to that effect, Kemp spent $1 million, over the objection of banking regulators, to hire teams of “testers” for sting operations on banks to check for racial discrimination. HUD had done this to renters for years, but rather than attack such invasion of privacy, which results in de facto lending quotas, Kemp broke new ground by dramatically expanding it.

If you complain about Kemp’s bigspending, big-government programs, he will snap and tell you, as he told the Wall Street Journal, that “the economy of the inner city” is more important than “monomaniacally focusing on single-entry bookkeeping.” To think conservatives used to care about such things as living within one’s means.

Yet with Kemp, it is not so much a matter of budget priorities as it is of holding the wrong set of principles. You might think, for example, he would favor privatization of certain public assets. But when Dan Quayle nearly had L.A. mayor Tom Bradley convinced that the city should privatize its airport to raise money to pay for the riot cleanup, Kemp personally interceded to foil the plan. “I have never recommended that LAX be privatized,” he told the Washington Post, presumably because that just might upset someone on the left who thinks airports ought to belong to everybody.

One of the many untold aspects of Kemp’s HUD tenure is how he used his office to lead a crusade to reinvigorate private-sector labor unions. As only one example, he expanded the traditional interpretation of the Davis-Bacon Act, which resulted in numerous housing projects being classified as “development” (rather than “maintenance”) projects, so that more work must be done by labor unions at union wages. A small regulatory change such as this allows the transfer of millions from taxpayers to union coffers, whereas a repeal of the Davis-Bacon Act, says Representative Cass Ballenger (R-NC), would save $1.3 billion. Only after relentless pressure from Representative Charles Stenholm (D-TX) and the National Right to Work Committee (NRWC) did Kemp begin to retract his plan to grant unions new subsidies. It is no wonder, then, that Kemp regards himself as “a labor union leader,” as he told the Washington Post. “I’m from the Lane Kirkland wing of the Republican Party,” he continued. Reed Larson of NRWC sums up the problem: “Kemp has repeatedly used the power of” his office “to advance the interests of union officials at public expense.”

For all the criticism he levels at the right, and especially at Buchananites, Kemp cannot bring himself to criticize anyone seen publicK as being on his left. “Am I going to attack Bill Clinton or Hillary Clinton, or Al Gore or Tipper Gore?” he asked a Washington Post reporter with a “no” shake of his head. “They’re all friends of mine.”

Praise be to columnist Joe Sobran, who, along with his colleague Samuel Francis, is alone in expressing doubts about Kemp. Although Sobran supported Bush in 1988, he has since changed his mind. “I wish I could feel that Jack Kemp would lead the Reagan Revolution we still await,” Sobran writes. “But judging by his record, he won’t.”

Given his record and his views, what can account for Kemp’s popularity among conservatives? Partially it is due to ignorance. In his turf battles with the tax-increasing Budget Director Richard Darman and the negligent Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady, Kemp benefited from being seen as a “free-market mole” inside the White House, as the London Financial Times put it. Many of his sincere supporters on the right have deluded themselves into believing that his liberalism is strategic and not principled. Others agree with Kemp on the need to lower the capital gains tax; but shouldn’t conservatives be more than a special-interest lobby working for a handful of marginal policy changes?

There is, I suspect, another reason for Kemp’s popularity among conservatives: it is part of a quiet but profound ideological shift that has taken place over the last several years. Washington’s faux-right has moved ever leftward toward positions on domestic issues that any free-market observer of the Old School would instantly recognize as socialistic. The beginnings of this shift probably began, as Murray Rothbard argues, in the 50’s, accelerating in the following two decades; but by today’s standards even early-80’s conservatism seems reactionary, now that neoconservativism defines respectability on the right. Back in those days—imagine!—people talked of abolishing agencies like the Department of Education and HUD.

“My mama told me I was born to be President of the United States,” Kemp told the 1991 Conservative Leadership Conference, whose attendees gave him a standing ovation after he delivered the stump speech all his aides have since memorized. Heaven forfend. Bush was a pragmatic manager of the old-style Rockefeller variety. Kemp is a more ominous figure, a supply-side millenarian who imagines limitless possibilities for social uplift through the exercise of centralized state power. Pat Buchanan’s observation that Kemp has “gone native” should properly be seen as an understatement, even if Kemp does get the Republican nomination in 1996.