Jewish World Review March 14, 2000 /7 Adar 2, 5760
Bush's once-solid lead over Gore has evaporated, and Gore has proved that he is the toughest body-puncher in this year's presidential race.
Gore also has the good economy, Bush's national inexperience and doubts about Bush's IQ going for him. In California on Tuesday, voters split 50-50 on whether Bush has the knowledge necessary to be president.
Under these circumstances, Bush can't afford to have McCain fuming for months about the "sleazy" ads Bush and his allies used to defeat him.
On Wednesday, after a day of reflection, McCain "suspended" his campaign but did not declare that he would endorse and embrace Bush for the fall test. He offered Bush only his "best wishes," not a promise of active campaigning for Bush in the fall or an effort to bring his millions of followers to Bush.
He'd been urged by some senior Republicans in his camp to reach out to Bush, including former White House chief of staff Ken Duberstein, former Rep. Vin Weber and Sen. Chuck Hagel.
They represented part of the "elephant faction" in the McCain camp, in the words of Weekly Standard editor and McCain backer Bill Kristol.
They were opposed by a "Bull Moose faction" led, reportedly, by his top political adviser, John Weaver, who wanted McCain to mount a third-party effort.
Bolting the GOP in the manner of McCain's hero, Theodore Roosevelt, would have been the modern equivalent of Julius Caesar's crossing the Rubicon -- risking everything for his cause.
McCain did not cross the Rubicon and cease being a Republican -- which would have involved giving up his Senate committee chairmanship and either creating a new party or contesting for the Reform Party nomination.
On the other hand, he did not concede defeat in the GOP and graciously embrace Bush -- enhancing his chances of becoming Bush's running mate.
Instead, he waded into the river and stayed there, vowing to fight on for his reformist principles at the Republican National Convention, with a decision to come later on what part he will take in the fall campaign.
There is plenty of precedent for what McCain has done. In 1976, after Ronald Reagan contested incumbent President Gerald Ford's nomination and lost, Reagan did the minimum for Ford, who lost narrowly.
Yet, Reagan did not get blamed for Ford's defeat and went on to win the GOP nomination in 1980 and become a sainted figure in the party.
McCain conceivably hopes to repeat this pattern, but he does not have the standing in the party that Reagan once did -- the support of conservatives who make up its base.
To the contrary, McCain already is regarded as a pariah by his Senate colleagues. His support consists of the most moderate quarter to third of the GOP, plus a collection of non-Republican independents and Democrats.
McCain argues -- with some justice -- that his aim is to enlarge the GOP, but many regular Republicans -- including Reaganites -- regard what he's up to as a hostile takeover.
Had McCain been able to bring it off by winning the primaries and the nomination, he could have called the shots and party regulars would have had to fall in line behind his reform agenda.
But he lost -- decisively. He carried only New England states in Tuesday's primary, previously won the Republican vote only in New Hampshire and won Michigan only by attracting Democrats anxious to embarrass pro-Bush Gov. John Engler.
In the process, McCain grew bitter at the tactics Bush and his allies used against him. And even though he did not let his bile show on Wednesday, he reportedly has not yet swallowed it. He told reporters prior to Tuesday's primaries that he was not on speaking terms with Bush.
For his part, Bush is professing in public that he does not harbor personal hostility to McCain. But in private he has said he is not about to kiss and make up with McCain.
Bush's problem -- and McCain's -- is that during the primaries McCain provided the Democratic party with a treasure trove of videotaped testimony on why voters shouldn't support Bush in the fall.
It's topped by accusations that Bush is a "Robertson Republican" representing intolerance and exclusionism. It's much worse stuff than Steve Forbes ever uttered against 1996 GOP standard-bearer Bob Dole.
So, both McCain and Bush have an interest in having the Senator try to un-say all the nasty things he's said. It could win independent support for Bush and pave the way for McCain's return to the GOP.
If no one else does it, it's up to Bush to pick up the phone and say, "John?
... Friend? C'mon down to
03/09/00: Can GOP Forge Unity After Nasty McCain-Bush Race?