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
Okay, what’s a four-letter word for ”our next president“? If you said Gore, you have about a 50 percent chance of being right next November. Probably a little higher than 50, but it‘s early yet.
Vice President Al Gore has emerged from the primary season relatively unscathed, and certainly with far fewer scathes than GOP nominee-to-be George W. Bush. The most recent national polls have the Bush-Gore contest about even up, but the indications from Tuesday’s contests, and their attendant exit polls, are favorable to the Veep. In the exit poll of all voters from the California primary -- an electorate probably more GOP-leaning than the turnout come November -- Gore leads Bush by a 51-percent-to-43-percent margin.
The problem for W. is that he ends the primary process well to the right of where he started. That he knows he needs to re-center was clear from his Tuesday-night speech, where he not only sought to cloak himself, however improbably, in the raiment of reform, but also relegated his tax cut to the fourth item on his list of things he‘d do with the surplus (after shoring up Social Security and boosting spending on the military and schools). For his part, Gore began trolling for unmoored McCainites as early as last week’s debate with Bill Bradley, in which he charged several times that of the four major candidates, only W. was deaf to the appeal of campaign-finance reform.
Neither Gore nor Bush is a natural fit for the McCain malcontents come November. But someone (not Pat Buchanan or Ross Perot) will lay claim to most of them, and Gore‘s positions on choice, guns and the environment -- and his ability to claim some credit for the state of the economy -- are more likely to attract wavering centrists than Bush’s attempt to personify the cause of moral regeneration. Should the election come down to a test between Gore‘s credibility as a steward of the economy and Bush’s credibility as a midwife of moral rebirth, the Dems should prevail. It‘s easier to see the Veep as a banker than it is the Guv as a minister, let alone a prophet.
When historians look back on the brief, intense primary season of campaign 2000, they will doubtless note that John McCain proved himself a far more compelling challenger in his party than Bill Bradley did in his. But they should also note that February’s bizarre primary calendar artificially inflated McCain‘s stature, and further deflated Bradley’s in the process.
The weirdness of February was that Republican contests were scheduled in several key states that had no corresponding Dem-ocratic contests. As a result, Democrats, having no place else to go, flocked to crucial GOP primaries. Republicans constituted only 48 percent of the voters in their own Michigan primary, where McCain got enough support among independents and Democrats to overcome Bush‘s 2-1 advantage among Republicans. The McCain problem this Tuesday night, however, was that Democrats finally had their own Dem-ocratic primaries to vote in, and only a relative handful of Dems were willing to go behind enemy lines when they could easily vote in their own party. In Ohio and Missouri -- two states where the Republican primaries were open to Democats -- fully 70 percent and 61 percent of the voters in the GOP contest were Republican, and Bush carried these states overwhelmingly. McCain simply couldn’t win anywhere that the Republicans constituted a clear majority of the Republican voters (well, anywhere except New England, where Republicans are the ideological equivalents of center-left Democrats anywhere else).
The reasons for McCain‘s considerable appeal to Democrats and independents were legion. He was the onetime hawk who made friends -- who made a show of making friends -- with onetime doves. He made war not just on the cultural right wing of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell but on the economic right wing of the Wall Street Journal editorial page. His attacks on W.’s tax cuts for favoring the rich (38 percent goes to the wealthiest 1 percent) were every bit as heretical as his affront to the Christian right. Indeed, I suspect part of McCain‘s appeal to Democrats was that he confirmed their hitherto unvoiced suspicion that reasonable Republicans, freed from the confines of party discipline, didn’t really believe all that stuff they voted for, and didn‘t even want to associate with those right-wing movement types who normally surrounded them. Left to their own devices, serious Republicans would hang with liberal reporters and end up as tribunes for moderation.
In hindsight, the amount of wishful thinking that went into the McCain phenomenon -- on the part of both the campaign and its Democratic supporters -- was staggering. No presidential campaign can prevail that flatly rejects its party’s core program, let alone that insults the party‘s activist cadres. McCain’s only chance, coming off his Michigan upset, would have been to find some way to appeal more directly to the Republican base. Problem was, the Republican base already had a candidate, and almost everything McCain said after Michigan -- his attacks on the Christian right most especially -- only increased the determination of core Republicans to vote for Bush. On Tuesday, the religious right cast their vote for Boy George over McCain by margins ranging from 3-to-1 to 8-to-1.