Here’s a nifty trick. Find a George W. Bush Jr. supporter and ask him or her to tell you why they like G-Dub. Wait patiently for them to get it all out on the table. Then ask, “Okay, now tell me why you like George Bush Jr. but exclude anything having to do with process or ability to win.”
You might as well have a seat because odds are it’s going to take them a while.
I’ve played this game with Bushies — either in person or by e-mail — dozens of times. I’ve yet to get a good answer. Either the respondent offers more process plaudits dressed up like substance — “he can bring in Hispanics,” “he has an ability to bring the best people into his camp,” “he has a vision to make the Republican party a majority party” — or I get platitudinous dreck: “He’s a president for the 21st century.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. Process and “winnability” arguments are a necessary, but not sufficient, aspect of any presidential rationale. Also, from what I can tell, I think G-Dub is probably a fine man. He’d probably make a fine Republican nominee and might make an even finer president. But I don’t know that. And as far as I can tell, neither does anyone else.
What really bugs me though are these medieval pilgrimages to Austin. Various cabinet nominees come forward after meeting his eminence and say, “He is another Reagan.”
Did I walk into the middle of the movie? Reagan was great because he staked his positions and brought the people to him. If his positions were unpopular, he just said, “wait, they’ll come around.” For the life of me I cannot figure out what people mean when they say Bush is Reagan-like. Is he the same height? Does he like jelly beans too? Because on the issues, Bush seems to have decided that sitting on his lead and sucking the oxygen out of the Republican party is the definition of leadership.
“I know, I know, but I want to win,” seems to be the only honest response of Republicans who support Bush. Well, who doesn’t want to win? Is there somebody who’d let Al Gore pick 3 Supreme Court justices, rather than give that privilege to some other GOP candidate not their own? There are probably five candidates who could beat Al Gore tomorrow. Winnability is not nearly a powerful enough argument to restore primogeniture to the Republican party.
THE DREAM SCENARIO
That said, here is my dream scenario for the coming presidential campaign. Like all good dream scenarios, it assumes everything goes right but not impossibly right. Hence, I believe this could actually happen, though I wouldn’t bet on it.
Bill Bradley is going to be a tougher candidate than anyone could have predicted. He is already making race a central issue of his campaign. When he was a senator, his speeches on race, though a tad inflated, were powerful and sincere and gained him considerable credibility with the African-American community. He will recruit Michael Jordan and other NBA stars (mostly with the help of his friend Phil Jackson) to stump for him in the fall. Polls of the black community reflect that Gore’s support is derived almost entirely from his association with Bill Clinton. It is doubtful that their support will stay strong. With Clinton heading to Dreamworks, Gore will need to earn his own following.
This, plus Bradley’s own stature on racial issues and the big box-office support of Jordan et al, will combine to split the black vote during the primaries and force Gore to align himself even more with Jesse Jackson and Democratic party special interests. Gore emerges from the primaries, defensive, wounded, and much further to the left than he’d like to be.
This leaves the center and the center Right entirely for the Republican nominee — in all likelihood George Bush (I don’t think this is as assured as people think. But let’s stipulate for the purpose of the dream scenario). Bush has an excellent track record — for a southern Republican — of attracting Hispanics and blacks. Bush picks Colin Powell as his running mate. The black vote is already disaffected because of its initial support for Bradley and the fact that Gore is far stiffer than June Cleaver in the Airplane movies. The appeal of Colin Powell — a self-made military man and hero — the first black on a national ticket, would be phenomenal.
(Picking Powell is the most far-fetched aspect of the dream scenario, but I don’t believe it’s impossible. Powell has made his money and has had four years to get comfortable with national politics.)
A centrist Bush-Powell ticket would attract substantial numbers of middle-class minorities. All of a sudden, California, Illinois, New York don’t look very Democratic anymore. It wouldn’t be on par with the FDR realignment which brought blacks into the Democratic coalition. But, it would be close enough.
If this scenario panned out, there would be serious problems for us wing-nuts. A Bush-Powell ticket could win with such a big landslide that the squishification of the Republican party would seem to have a mandate. But what a small price to pay in return for watching the Democratic party, the party of minorities, try to figure out what to do when the minorities don’t want to play anymore.
Obviously, there are dozens of reasons why this scenario could never happen. Bradley could implode. Gore could implode. Bush could tell us what he stands for…
THE JONAH POLL RETURNS
This seems like the perfect time to run the poll I tried to run months ago but failed because I am an idiot. But now National Review has hired several Chinese nationals who were recently let go by the Energy Department. We have the technology, we have the ability to rebuild this poll:
THE JONAH POLL: Who would you most like to see get the Republican nomination and become President of the United States? (Link defunct)
To view the results, please click here (Link defunct).