Feuding Republicans Ready for New Battle

Now that Hillary Rodham Clinton has declared her candidacy, voters can expect substantive discussion of important issues-like why her handlers played an uncensored Billy Joel album at her announcement rally, and why her campaign video mentioned that she cooks omelets and tosses salads, and why her bumper stickers and buttons refer to the candidate by her first name instead of her full married name.

All of these shocking departures from normal political behavior are newsworthy, of course, but there are other aspects of the Senate campaign that deserve attention. Such as the continuing feud between Mayor Rudolph Giuliani-who is expected to be the Republican senatorial nominee-and Gov. George Pataki, who is supposedly supporting the Mayor.

Not all of the indications of that continuing estrangement are quite as obvious as the recent remarks by Conservative Party leader Michael Long, who more or less warned Mr. Giuliani not to run at all. Mr. Long once again has begun to promote the candidacy of Representative Rick Lazio of Long Island, a maneuver thought to have been put down months ago at the command of Mr. Pataki. Since Mr. Long’s little party depends on the Governor for patronage, he seems unlikely to be encouraging Mr. Lazio without at least tacit permission from Albany.

Why would Mr. Pataki and his minions seek to undermine the Mayor, just when Mrs. Clinton seems to be improving her position against him in the polls? The simplest answer is that Mr. Giuliani and his enemies in his own party have never really reconciled.

Local maneuvering in the Presidential campaign has offered fresh evidence of ill feeling within the state Republican Party. A few weeks ago, the Mayor criticized state Republican leaders-and implicitly the Governor-for their underhanded scheme to block Senator John McCain from the March 7 primary ballot in New York. Coming from a prominent endorser of Gov. George W. Bush of Texas, the Mayor’s blast was doubly embarrassing to Mr. Pataki, whose aspirations to Vice Presidency have been endangered by the ballot-access fiasco.

Those aspirations will be dealt another slap by Mr. Giuliani soon, when he welcomes the Governor’s chief rival for the Vice Presidential nomination to the city. That would be Gov. Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania, who has been invited by some mischievous person to deliver the keynote address at the G.O.P.’s annual Lincoln Day dinner in Manhattan. The Mayor may look dour, but nobody can say he doesn’t have a wonderful sense of humor.

It is safe to assume, however, that Mr. Pataki is not amused-and that his feuding with Mr. Giuliani is encouraged by powerful figures on his staff who remain close to former Senator Alfonse D’Amato. It is equally likely that Mr. D’Amato, whose intense dislike for the Mayor dates back well over a decade, doesn’t relish the notion of his old adversary becoming senator. In their conflict, Mr. Giuliani has always played the role of principled public servant, brushing back the demands of Mr. D’Amato, the sleazy politician. A decade ago, he exposed Mr. D’Amato’s attempt to win leniency for two Mafia defendants, and things have never been quite the same between them since. Mr. D’Amato answered by mounting a Republican Party primary challenge to damage Mr. Giuliani in the 1989 mayoral race, clearly preferring a Democratic victory to the prospect of a mortal enemy in City Hall.

So with the possible re-emergence of Mr. Lazio as a senatorial contender, history is repeating itself-but there is no tragedy here, only farce. Having doled out patronage to his friends in the Liberal Party and other special interests for the past several years, Mr. Giuliani is no longer quite the shining reformer he once seemed to be.

As for Mr. Long, his outrage about Mr. Giuliani’s “liberalism” appears rather selective. The Conservative boss has voiced no qualms about supporting Mr. Pataki, whose positions on such matters as abortion and gay rights seem scarcely different from those held by the Mayor.

Perhaps, as his supporters suggest, Mr. Giuliani will ultimately be helped more than hurt by the enmity of Messrs. Long, Pataki and D’Amato. Perhaps the presence of a Conservative candidate in the race will highlight his credentials as a moderate, even as he exploits the Clinton-hating extremism of the far right. Certainly, that strategy would make the best of a bad situation. But it will leave the Republicans in severe disarray come November, when the party’s Presidential nominee is almost certain to appear on the Conservative Party line while its senatorial nominee may not.

And as the Mayor surely knows, no Republican has won statewide office without the Conservative line since 1974. Historical trends since then show that the minor party could tally more than 8 percent of the vote this fall-more than enough to lose what currently looks like a very close election.