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Bush Counting on GOP Conformity to Save Bid

by Christopher Caldwell

Local patriots were bragging about what a herd of conformist lugnuts they all were
Gary Bauer, who used to run a think tank allied with Focus on the Family, thought he could get elected president by focusing on his own family. His campaign motto seems to have been "Elect Me Because My Dad Was a Drunken Janitor." For this New Hampshirites rewarded him with just over 1000 of their votes, which works out to one vote for every several hours he spent tramping around the state. But if his campaign was uninspiring, his withdrawal from the race was statesmanlike, even moving. "Obviously the voters of New Hampshire didn't endorse me today," he said just before he bailed out, "but I'd like to endorse them. These are serious people here. They take their citizenship seriously. They've done a great job looking at all of us."

Bauer's graciousness was all the more admirable in the face of George Bush's reaction to -- and let us be precise about what happened here -- the biggest blowout in New Hampshire primary history. It wasn't surprising that McCain scored his largest margin of victory (70-21) among those Republicans who said "character" was the big issue of the campaign. Because in his concession speech, Bush seemed to be trying to strike a delicate balance between Mussolini's claim that he'd been deposed because the Italian people weren't worthy of his greatness and Brecht's suggestion that the East German government should dissolve the people and elect a new one.

"South Carolina is Bush country," Dubya proclaimed. By this he meant New Hampshire was not, and his Southeast political coordinator Warren Tompkins was quick to point out why. "Once again, New Hampshire goes for the Republican who's not going to win the nomination," Tompkins said. "South Carolina is again in position to straighten out the mess New Hampshire made of the process. We're fully prepared. We've been expecting this." That is, while New Hampshirites had actually had the gall to examine the candidates, South Carolinians would assure that the national Republican brass was treated with the deference to which it had grown accustomed. All over the Palmetto State (as it's called in election season), local patriots were bragging about what a herd of conformist lugnuts they all were. Bill Broach, of Winthrop University in Rock Hill, said: "This is not New Hampshire. We don't have the Yankee independent spirit around here."

Everything reverses itself now, as in Goh, that Japanese tile game in which one well-placed tiddlywink can change the whole board from black to white. Bush's biggest advantages were turning into disadvantages. Last week, the cute trick he pulled with Albany's Republican machine to keep McCain off the New York ballot blew up in his face, feeding an antiestablishment reputation that is McCain's lifeblood. (And which -- aside from not being George Bush -- he's done little to deserve.) Twenty-four hours after New Hampshire, the Bush camp was begging George Pataki to find a way to get McCain on the ballot. I think it was either Huey or Earl Long who said, "In politics, there's such a thing as killing a fellow too dead."

Roughly tied in South Carolina, the candidate of "compassionate conservatism" felt he had to launch his campaign at right-wing Bob Jones University. Bush will probably now have his feet held to the fire on the issue of South Carolina's flying the Confederate battle flag over the Statehouse. Alan Keyes, the last of the second-tier candidates to see the writing on the wall (writing that says: "Get a job!"), is known to feel passionately about taking it down.

Bush still has formidable advantages. Chief among them is not his money but the fact that there's so little reason to vote for McCain. The Senator's left-wing campaign finance reform contains about one soundbite worth of thought-once you get past that, McCain is lost. His tax plan is incoherent. In Kosovo, he showed a hair-trigger readiness to put the U.S. military at the service of Albanian drug dealers. But for now, McCain is enjoying what a political-operative friend of mine calls the "French woman" effect. The plainer he was to start with, the more impressive his prettied-up campaign looks. All those pundits who insisted up until Jan. 31 that McCain had to win both New Hampshire and South Carolina to stay alive turned out to be wrong. If Bush can't win in a conservative, conformist, obedient state like South Carolina, he can't compete anywhere. It's Bush who must win in South Carolina to stay alive.

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Albion Monitor February 13, 2000 (

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