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1988 CAMPAIGN : New Rules For The Old Race

November 06, 1988|William Schneider | William Schneider is a contributing editor to Opinion

WASHINGTON — Here are five reasons why George Bush cannot be elected President:

1) Bush is a sitting vice president. No sitting vice president has been elected President in 150 years. Being vice president is a great way to get your party's presidential nomination. The Republicans nominated Richard M. Nixon in 1960; the Democrats nominated Hubert H. Humphrey in 1968 and Walter F. Mondale in 1984. And they all lost. The vice presidency did to Bush what it always does to people who hold that office. It turned him into a wimp.

2) Bush was born to wealth and privilege. That confirms the most damaging stereotype about the GOP. Democrats can get away with nominating a Franklin D. Roosevelt or a John F. Kennedy. But Republicans have not dared to nominate a genuine aristocrat since 1912.

3) Bush is at the wrong end of the election cycle. After a party has been in power for eight years, the voters want a change. With no elected incumbent on the ballot, the contest is usually close and the party out of power wins. That happened in 1960, 1968 and 1976.

4) Bush has exercised bad judgment time and again. He toasted Ferdinand E. Marcos' commitment to democracy. He put Gen. Manuel A. Noriega on the Central Intelligence Agency payroll. He gave President Reagan terrible advice in the Iran-Contra affair. "But what has he done recently?" you may ask. He chose Sen. Dan Quayle of Indiana as his running mate. In all his years in public life, as congressman, Republican Party chairman, liaison officer to China, director of the CIA, ambassador to the United Nations and vice president of the United States, what has Bush ever accomplished on his own initiative? Nothing. How's that for a record?

5) Bush is defying trends in public opinion. For the last four years, public opinion has been moving in a more liberal direction. More people want to do something about poverty, homelessness, hunger and pollution. The public is enthusiastic about arms control and detente with the Soviet Union. When asked what should be done to reduce the federal budget deficit, people's first choice is to cut military spending. Ever since Reagan's reelection in 1984, conservatism has been on the decline.

So there it is. Proof positive that Bush can't win. And by the way, the earth is flat. Elvis is alive. And I'm Queen Marie of Romania.

The fact is, unless something unexpected happens in the next two days--say, Barbara Bush runs off with Eddie Fisher--Bush is likely to be elected President. And get this: Quayle is likely to be elected vice president. "In your face!" as Bush has probably not said but soon will.

How did this happen? When the experts look back on the 1988 campaign, as they have been trying to do for the last month, they will reach one inescapable conclusion. Negative campaigns work.

There you have it. The lesson of 1988. And rest assured, if Bush wins, we will be seeing more and more negative campaigns in the years to come. Until someone comes along and proves conclusively that negative campaigns don't work.

Politicians, like generals, are always fighting the last war. In 1976, for example, they learned the momentum principle. It went like this: If you want to win your party's nomination, do what Jimmy Carter did. Spend all your time and money in Iowa, win the Iowa caucuses and then rely on the news media to carry you through the rest of the campaign.

This year, Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) and Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) spent all their time and money in Iowa. They won the Iowa caucuses. And they got exactly nowhere. So 1988 has proved conclusively that the momentum principle doesn't work. The momentum cliche has been replaced by the marathon cliche. If you want to win your party's nomination, do what Michael S. Dukakis did. Raise vast quantities of money so that you can run everywhere and survive the inevitable setbacks.

As Jerry Austin, Jesse Jackson's campaign manager, described it, the marathon model is simple. "Your strategy to win the nomination is to have 10 million bucks in the bank before a single vote is cast--and to be the last white guy standing."

Dukakis' marathon strategy made him a sitting duck for the Republicans. He assumed that he could run against Bush the same way he ran against Jackson: Just keep going until the other guy collapses.

Bush knew that if the 1988 election was a referendum on himself, he would lose (see items 1 through 5 above). So he turned it into a referendum on Dukakis.

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