After watching George W. Bush pummel John McCain in the debate last night on key issues like taxes and campaign-finance reform, I’m getting the sense that McCain’s boomlet is over. I don’t believe he is going to win New Hampshire. Bush will win there, as well as in Iowa. There’s a very good chance Steve Forbes will finish second in both places.
Bush had some really impressive answers last night–the best I’ve seen from him in the three debates so far. On HMOs, he asked for less government control and more patient and doctor choice. His Texas HMO review board is a good idea nationally. People shouldn’t forget that Bush hates trial lawyers, not only because they contributed heavily to Ann Richards in 1994, but also, as a former oil man, he has an intense dislike for unlimited product liability lawsuits. Speaking of Bush’s anti-regulatory instincts, he also has a tremendous dislike for environmental controls. In a potential Bush- Gore race, their differing views on regulations would be one of the biggest DMZ dividing lines. I also liked Bush’s pro-Israel answer, and his answer on no litmus tests for his running mate. He gave a reasoned discussion of what his vice-presidential candidate would look like, saying this person would have to share philosophy. He’s pro-life and a strict constitutionalist. That says in his heart he’s against Roe. He’ll pick a pro-lifer.
He ripped McCain in two vital areas. First, on taxes. McCain has no real tax cut plan and opposes across-the-board cuts. Bush made the crucial point that the best way to oppose special interests is to “stop feeding the hog.” Ronald Reagan had the same view when he argued in 1980 that, like a child, the only way to stop a spendthrift Congress is to cut off the allowance through tax cuts. Bush also leveled McCain on campaign-finance reform saying it doesn’t touch the unions or offer paycheck protection. It was Orrin Hatch who asked McCain, “why are you in favor of a campaign-finance reform plan opposed by Republicans and backed by Dems?” McCain’s answer to everything is campaign reform, and it’s a complete political loser.
Forbes gave some excellent answers last night. Once again, I had the thought that I sure hope Bush listens to Forbes’ policy proposals. Forbes’ answer on Israel was brilliantly comprehensive, as was his answer on free trade with China and on ethanol (where he basically made the correct point that technological advances will solve the energy problem, not government subsidies). He also gave a brilliant answer in his opposition to the minimum wage, pointing to the example of Europe’s high unemployment rates. Unfortunately, nobody asked him a question on taxes or the economy. Right now, Forbes may be the most underrated player in this race. He’s been written off, but the guy is so good on the issues he can’t be discounted.
My conclusion is that McCain’s limp policy answers showed him to be a weak swimmer trying to tread in deep water. He’ll start dropping in the polls — including the New Hampshire polls — right now.