Has George Bush sabotaged his chances in the general election by
moving too far to the right in order to placate conservative voters in
South Carolina? Yes, say the monolithic voices of the media elite, and
McCain’s victory in Michigan proves it. They’re wrong.
According to the McMedia, McCain is the only Republican who has any
chance of building a broad enough coalition to defeat Al Gore in
Liberals have been saying since before the ascension of Ronald Reagan
that conservative Republican presidential candidates are unelectable.
Has political reality finally caught up with liberal rhetoric? In a
What, then, is the significance of McCain’s McMichigan victory? Is
there any silver lining in those results for Governor Bush? Definitely.
Republican voters chose Bush by a resounding three-to-one margin.
Since a large number of the remaining Republican primaries are closed,
Bush enjoys a substantial advantage. McCain is the one who has gone too
far. He’ll never be able to redeem himself with the GOP base, without
which he has nary a chance in either the primary or the general.
So what, say you McEnthusiasts. Even if Bush captures the nomination
it will be a Pyrrhic victory because he will not be able credibly to
resurrect his compassionate-conservative theme to attract swing voters.
There are at least two glaring fallacies in this McTheory. One is
that Bush has substantially changed his policy positions since the
McCain surge. The other is that Bush’s relative difficulty with
Democrats and Independents against McCain will translate into his
inability to compete with Gore for those voters.
Even many Republicans have fallen for the notion that Bush has
changed his message to shore up his conservative support. But that’s not
really the case. He’s definitely sharpened his rhetoric and also appears
more conservative by contrast with the Republican-bashing McCain. But he
hasn’t changed on the issues. Let’s take a look:
- Taxes: Back in the early fall he promised to unveil a tax
plan that would be more ambitious than that of the congressional
Republicans. Later in the year, he delivered on his promise with a
supply-side, across-the-board tax cut plan.
- Abortion: He’s been pro-life from the beginning, allowing for
exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother, which is to the
left of the party’s platform. He has also continued to refuse, despite
pressure from the right, including me, to apply a pro-life litmus test
for his judicial appointments and running mate.
- Foreign policy: He has not backed off one iota from any of the
fundamental principles laid out in his foreign policy speech last year,
including his promise to treat Red China as a competitor rather than as
- Education: He hasn’t retracted a syllable of his education plan,
despite criticism from some conservatives that it may cede too little
federal control to the states.
My point here is not that Bush is not conservative enough, but
that he hasn’t opportunistically altered his message to fend off
McCain’s attack from the left.
The other misconception is that Bush will not be able to attract
swing voters against Al Gore in the general election. Analysts have
fallen into the trap of assuming that the Democrats and independents now
voting for McCain are the same ones Bush will be courting in the general
election. More likely, many of these are rent-a-voters on a mission to
weaken Bush through a protracted primary contest. Don’t forget that Bush
has demonstrated a remarkable ability to appeal to minorities and women
in Texas. Since he hasn’t truly changed on the issues, he should be able
to attract those voters nationally.
And, it will be far easier for Bush to compete against Al Gore for
moderate votes than against the more moderate McCain. If anyone should
be worried, it’s Gore. Bill Bradley has forced him so far to the left in
their Santa Claus look-alike debates, that he’ll have a much tougher
time appealing to moderates than Bush.
Bush has reinvigorated the GOP base by refusing to shift left in the
heat of battle. He must ignore his counterfeit benefactors in the
McPress and stay the course through the general election.