George W.’s new retooled message that he is the real “reformer with results” is not going to do it for him.
There’s no evidence yet that Bush’s stock has bottomed, or that the McCain portfolio has yet peaked. Nobody seems to be focussed on tonight’s Delaware primary, but if Bush polls less than 50%, his stock in South Carolina and elsewhere will fall even further.
For the life of me, I can’t figure out what happened to the solid message Bush developed last fall, where he argued that traditional conservative values of tax cuts, limited government and personal responsibility could be applied to solve the prosperous nation’s remaining problems. This “compassionate” conservatism that argued for prosperity with a purpose and emphasized faith-based programs, resonated well in all the national polling surveys.
But Bush has moved badly off message so far this year, and so his polls have declined. Respondents who were buying his fund are now shorting it, as earning results have been dismal. His new message falls back on process, hype discussions, putting his parents front and center, or endorsements of staid Republican establishment members who have become yesterday’s men. Ranting about being a conservative or a real reformer is not a message unless there’s some meat behind it to lend credibility and generate confidence.
How it became that Bush and his top strategists allowed the campaign to fall so badly off-message is really the key question so far in the Republican primary season.
Right now Bush should be carpet bombing President Clinton’s Great Society, liberal State of the Union and budget. Clinton has gone over the edge with entitlement expansions, safety net increases, tax increases, and under-funded defense planning. It’s a reversion back to his early presidency in 1993-94 which resulted in a Republican takeover of Congress for the first time in forty years. It will never wash with over-charged tax payers and pro-business investors.
Bush should be offering his alternative vision with a beefed-up tax-cut message that includes capital gains relief and expanded super saver IRAs, along with personal retirement accounts for Social Security and a government-limiting program that will terminate three or four Cabinet departments and wipe out all the unnecessary middle layers of the federal bureaucracy.
Bush should also use this approach to criticize John McCain’s root-canal debt obsession. Remember how debt reduction was supposed to block federal spending increases? Well, turns out, that government spending the last two years has moved from a 1% decline rate to a 5% increase rate. In other words, Washington has found a way to retire debt and still use budget surpluses to expand spending. Bush should use this as a direct rebuttal to McCain and the Republican congressional leadership. A real reformer would be cutting taxes across the board. This would please the most special of all the special interests — namely overcharged tax payers.
Right now, Gov. Bush could be sending a wake up call to Republican primary voters, but as yet it is he who has not woken up.