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Post-California: What the Candidates Must Do Next : Bush Has to Get More Than the Conservative Vote

The Running Arguments: A Continuing Series Surveying The Presidential Campaign And Candidates.

June 05, 1988|Stuart K. Spencer | Stuart K. Spencer was Ronald Reagan's senior campaign adviser in 1980 and 1984

IRVINE — With the California primary Tuesday, we draw down the curtain on the preliminary road show for 1988. It is now time to look at the route ahead to the fall election and the coalition building ahead for Vice President George Bush as he sets out to hold the White House for the GOP and build on the Reagan accomplishments, abroad and at home.

Some say Bush will be lucky to get the all-out support of conservatives, in California and elsewhere, who backed Ronald Reagan so strongly in the past two elections. They say he lacks the presence and natural gifts of Reagan, man and candidate, and fearfully--or gleefully--predict he will be eaten alive by his Democratic opponent, Gov. Michael S. Dukakis of Massachusetts. In short, some say he is not one of them.

They are right in stating that Bush is no Reagan--but then again, he doesn't have to be--he is not running against the President or a candidate possessing similar traits. You don't need to be Reagan to have a good shot against a city manager-style candidate, who prefers abstract models to gut answers and who looks on questioners as second-guessers, unfamiliar with the rarefied atmosphere of Mount Olympus where he can decide things in the cool passionless way of knowing what's right. A motto of the Dukakis approach might truly be "I know it works in practice, but can it fit my theory?"

Sure, Bush is behind Dukakis in recent California and national polls, while not reassuring for the veep, it's only a little worse than par for the course at this stage. It's early yet--it's a long haul from June to November.

A lot of hard work lies ahead. Reagan grabbed the voters' hearts--their minds easily followed. Bush has to grab their minds and hope their hearts will follow. Tougher work, but doable.

The fervor with which conservatives of all stripes flocked to Reagan in 1980, 1984 and even earlier was gratifying to behold. What Richard M. Nixon (a head-leading-heart candidate if I ever saw one) could not accomplish for the GOP, Reagan did again and again. To get their heart pumping, a candidate has to show voters he's one of them. Bush will get the conservative vote that goes to the polls, but he needs more than their vote.

Bush will be running on the Republican line, carrying the Reagan--and conservative--torch this year. He will be running against Democrat Dukakis who carries the anti-Reagan--and liberal--torch. The people get to decide. My advice to Bush is to share yourself--your head, heart and gut--with the people. Let them know you care, the way Reagan did, for their hopes, their children's futures and this fair land of promise.

Begin with defense; tell the story of what a strong defense means to our people. In addition to the obvious benefit--peace through strength--there are auxiliary benefits: jobs and their ripple-producing ancillary jobs, enhanced services through a greater tax base, a better quality of life through greater research. Tell the "big truth"--the Soviets would not negotiate unless we were strong. Tell us where you would lead.

Emphasize education--explain your plan to make saving for children's college educations easier. Use this as your take-off point for your view of the future for the middle class of American families--who work, pay their taxes and vote. Share your hopes for a better, brighter and more prosperous America with them.

Discuss the world--most Americans recognize your long years of experience in dealing with the good, the bad and the ugly out there. It's your strength--you've been there. Demonstrate your fitness to be the "leader after Reagan"--building on his starts. Let the voters know it's different and more difficult than dealing with the Massachusetts Legislature, in both quantitative and qualitative terms.

Let the people in on your life and share your hopes with us. Conservatives, ethnic voters and the broad middle class believe in God and family.

California is a great place to begin the effort. You have two strong bases here: Reagan, who chose you, and Gov. George Deukmejian, who is backing you. While there are no guarantees in politics, they will help you do your job--getting across and getting elected.

Some say you are not well known in California, and it's hard to get to know 27 million people personally--but twice before you were on a ticket that ran pretty well here. It's good to look at the '84 race. Reagan carried California by more than 1.5 million votes, but south of the Tehachapis his margin was nearly 1.2 million. This is the California where a lot of hard-working folks live and vote, and you--not the "tinkerer-manager"--are their natural candidate. Work this base, share your hopes and (though you are not) run like you are 20 points behind--Californians like a good show. And remember, they like to be asked for their vote and their help.

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