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Jewish World Review March 14, 2000 /7 Adar 2, 5760

Morton Kondracke

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Can Bush, McCain Unite to Beat Gore? -- IF REPUBLICANS want to beat Vice President Al Gore in the fall, grownups in the Republican party need negotiate a truce -- better, an alliance -- between Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain (Ariz.).

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 Austin."

JWR contributor Morton Kondracke is executive editor of Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


03/09/00: Can GOP Forge Unity After Nasty McCain-Bush Race?
03/07/00: What accounts for McCain's excesses?
03/02/00: 'Debate' Proved Gore Is This Year's Best Gut-Fighter
02/29/00: Surprises! The 2000 GOP race is full of it
02/25/00: Voters want centrist in White House
02/23/00: Gore would hit McCain's record
02/15/00: Will negativity hurt McCain in S.C.?
02/10/00: How hard should Bush hit McCain?
02/08/00: Bush must retool his entire campaign
01/27/00: Could Gore beat Bush as Truman beat Dewey?
01/20/00: Big New Surplus Estimates Could Alter 2000 Politics
12/21/99: Bush improves, everyone panders
12/16/99: Prospects improve for campaign reform
12/14/99: Riots raise free trade as 2000 issue
12/10/99: Gore won GOP 'debate' in N.H.
12/07/99: Election pits Bush cuts vs. Medicare boost
12/03/99: Can race be a constructive issue in 2000?
11/19/99: White House race may be best in decades
11/16/99: Where is Bush on health care fight?
11/11/99: Will TV stop profiteering from politics?
11/09/99: Is GOP isolationist, or just partisan?
11/04/99: Gore, Bradley Run Opposite Races On Style, Substance
11/01/99: GOP, Clinton could reach deal swiftly
10/27/99: Bush to fight 'culture wars' -- positively
10/21/99: Porter, Mack: heroes on medical research
10/19/99: Gore scores among party big shots, but polls go South
10/14/99: Bush critiques could help GOP Congress
10/12/99: Congress can save health care from ruin
10/07/99: Will gun-control cause the GOP to shoot itself in the foot?
10/05/99: Gore moves: Desperate but necessary
10/01/99: Fox, Armstrong make case for NIH
09/28/99: Dems' race brightens Bush's chances
09/23/99: East Timor deflates `Clinton Doctrine'
09/21/99: Buchanan v. Bush? Yeah right
09/17/99: Candidates turn attention to poverty
09/15/99: Bush's education problem
09/09/99: Budget makes 2000 an `issues' election
09/07/99:Airport rage increases, with good reason
09/02/99: U.S. future up for grabs in 2000
08/31/99: U.S. Capitol needs visitor's center -- soon
08/24/99: Will 2000 be the year of the foreign crisis?
08/19/99: Neither party has upper hand for '99
08/17/99: Ford gets freedom medal one month early
08/12/99: There's time to catch Bush, say Gore aides
08/10/99: Rudy, Hillary try much-needed makeovers
08/09/99: GOP must launch new probe of Chinagate
08/02/99: Pols blow fiscal smoke on budget surplus
08/02/99: One campaign reform should pass: disclosure
07/27/99: Gore leads Bush in policy proposals

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