I spoke with John Zogby, the stunningly accurate pollster who was the only professional pollster to predict the 1994 House turnover. According to his analysis, the winners coming out of the New Hampshire Republican debates are McCain, Forbes, and Bauer. The clear loser was George W. Bush: “Like caught in the headlights,” Zogby told me. Among voters who watched the debate, 30% said McCain won, 16% Bush, and 8% Forbes. Also, among New Hampshire primary voters generally, Zogby’s numbers show McCain 35, Bush 32, Forbes 12.
When he polled likely New Hampshire primary voters concerning eight presidential qualities, such as personal honesty, foreign policy, economic growth, etc., McCain won on seven out of eight areas. The only one that Bush took was “cares for the less fortunate.”
Importantly, on the question “who would better handle the presidency in a crisis?” McCain defeated Bush decisively. This leads me to think that Bush’s star is dimming.
If I were advising Bush right now, I would tell him, first, that Zogby’s polls show the that best approach for the tax issue is based on a recognition that voters believe they are being overcharged, and they want a refund. But so far, Bush has not scored any strong points on his tax-cut plan. He’s taking a cautious, risk-averse approach. His plan assumes a measly 2.7% growth forecast. So why even bother to cut taxes, if that’s all you’re going to get? The economy’s been growing at 3.5% for 17 years. So there’s a huge disconnect there.
Speaking of growth, it’s odd that neither Bush nor McCain nor Forbes has reached out to the investor class — which I believe is the invisible hand of American politics. None of them is touting expanded saving accounts or unlimited IRAs; none of them is emphasizing capital gains tax cuts indexed for inflation. These are the two most popular investor class issues.
But as disappointing as the Republicans can sometimes be, they can’t hold a candle to Al Gore. He’s in the New York Times today saying that he might raise taxes if the economy goes into recession and the budget surplus turns into a deficit. This logic turns John Maynard Keynes on his head. Even a good Keynesian would argue that tax cuts and deficit finance are the right economic remedies for a recession. So Al Gore has become the number one root-canal austerity candidate in the race. Does anyone truly believe that a president would raise taxes in a recession? Even for the inventor of the Internet, this is a new low.