With two months left before the elections, the momentum in the presidential race clearly has shifted to Vice President Al Gore. It will get worse before it gets better, we think, given the spectacular error Bush has made in attacking Gore in his television ads. Unless George W. Bush realizes he is running the same kind of campaign that Bob Dole ran in 1996 -- with the same advisors that his father had in 1992 -- it won’t get better at all, and Gore will win with something under 50% of the popular vote. Our assumption prior to the conventions was that 2000 would be the flip side of 1996, with the GOP getting the White House and the Democrats winning the House of Representatives. It was based on doubts that Gore could hold together the old Democratic coalition. At the Republican convention, Bush put on a great show of inclusiveness, showcasing blacks and Hispanics in a way Republicans have not done in a half century. He would be the growth candidate, appealing to younger minorities, and Gore would be stuck with the no-growth policies of global warming. Picking Dick Cheney was another impressive move, we thought, because Cheney would not only help him resist the counsel of the Cold Warriors who dominated the Dole campaign, but also remind Bush of the economic dynamics that underpinned the Reagan Revolution. Instead of pushing forward on these fronts, the Bush campaign froze, believing it need only run out the clock. Here are some pointed observations:
THE BUDDHIST MONKS: In 1996, the Dole campaign spent several million dollars on a TV spot showing President Clinton apologizing to a group of Texas businessmen for having raised their taxes as much as he did. Wherever the ad ran, Clinton went up in the polls, the dimwit Dole advisors never realizing they were paying to get the President’s apologies across. Now, the Bush campaign is spending several million dollars showing Vice President Gore shaking hands with a Buddhist monk and then talking about his paternal love of the Internet. Gore’s polling numbers are going up every day the spot is being shown. The Newsweek poll showing Gore with a 10-point lead is being scoffed at as an aberration, but other, new polls may be just as grim.
THE BLACK VOTE: For Bush to win, he has to be able to crack the black vote, which he can’t do merely by sending his black national security advisor, Condaleeza Rice, for talk show appearances on "Face the Nation." There is money coming out of their ears in Austin, but not a dime budgeted for black media and, as far as we can tell, no program of black surrogates to make the growth case for a Republican President. The Austin team has known for six months that Bush would be the nominee and the campaign would start on Labor Day. It apparently wasted all that time on conference calls on how to attack Gore for shaking hands with a Buddhist monk.
CHENEY: The Old Cold Warriors around Bush -- Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle -- are making sure Cheney’s common sense on national security is marginalized in the campaign. Two weeks ago, on the Sunday talk shows, Cheney made the perfect case on how Clinton and Gore have misused and overextended the military in the last eight years, and why we should be thinking of pulling troops out of Bosnia and Kosovo. Perle and Wolfowitz had their mouthpiece, Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard, write a column for the Washington Post blasting Cheney for not appreciating the nation’s imperial role in the world. The NYTimes then asked George W. Bush what he thought of Cheney’s idea of pulling troops out of Bosnia and Kosovo. Nope, said Bush, we should not flinch from our imperial responsibilities to the world. Hmmm.
ANTI-BALLISTIC MISSILES: The Bush position, dictated to him by Perle, Wolfowitz, and Rice, is that we should break the 1972 ABM Treaty and commit to spending $60 billion on a national nuclear missile shield to guard against a nuclear attack by North Korea. The Russians, Chinese AND our NATO allies, all oppose the idea. Gore also opposes the idea and supports a theater anti-missile shield, which would cost $5 billion and be adequate to knock down a North Korean nuclear missile -- if Pyongyang ever built a nuclear weapon and a missile capable of hitting more than a few islands in Alaska and had an overwhelming desire to fire it. The Sunday NYTimes had an excellent page one exposition on the pros and cons, but we doubt Perle and Wolfowitz will allow Bush to read it. They instead will feed him editorials from the WSJournal, dictated to the Journal editors by Perle and Wolfowitz, insisting we need to break the ABM Treaty and build a $60 billion shield to guard against North Korea. They have probably alerted Cheney already that he should keep his trap shut and support the shield.
THE LAFFER CURVE: There are no signs the Bush campaign will make any arguments based on the dynamics of the Laffer Curve, which of course was the foundation of the Reagan Presidency and the economic boom that has followed. Unless Bush at least will argue that his $1.3 trillion in tax cuts over 10 years will expand the national economy and produce more than enough revenues to offset financing charges, he allows Gore to make the zero-sum case that every dollar that goes to the RICH comes at the expense of the NEEDY. Gore’s $500 billion in “targeted tax cuts” are not tax cuts at all and make no contribution to economic growth. Jack Kemp’s campaign to get Steve Forbes into the Bush campaign, to make these arguments as a prospective Treasury Secretary in a Bush administration, has been shot down by the same economic advisors who kept Kemp muzzled when he was Dole’s running mate in 1996. The story is that it would be illegal to promise Forbes a Treasury job, although in reality all the campaign has to do is put a spotlight on him instead of the neo-Keynesians who designed the tax plan. Bush could turn the polls around with inexpensive, simple black-and-white tv spots making the supply-side case for an expansion of his tax program and negative spots where he argues against the demand-side ineffectiveness of the Gore program. Don’t hold your breath.
GLOBAL WARMING: If you recall the Democratic convention, Gore’s most embarrassing moment must have been when he vowed to be faithful to Global Warming -- and only three people clapped. It is absolutely Gore’s weakest policy stance because it does identify him as an opponent of global economic growth. The environmental fears never had any serious scientific underpinnings, even less now that the man who started it all, James Hansen of the Goddard Space Flight Center, has decided maybe he was wrong after all about carbon dioxide heating up the planet. Bush should be pounding away at Gore on what is the ridiculous equivalent of a $60 billion missile shield to defend against North Korea. But just as Gore decided to triangulate by supporting a little missile shield, Bush clearly has decided to pass on global warming, not wishing to offend the environmentalists who show up in his focus groups.
CLINTON: The master politician, Clinton effectively is running the Gore campaign. Republicans are furious at his running commentaries -- likening GWB to a fraternity boy who thinks he deserves the White House because the other frat had it for eight years. So far, he has been on the mark. Bush still has time to win. Bob Dole will never make it.