Jewish World Review March 30, 2000 /24 Adar II, 5760
It's like 1976 in that the Republican renegade, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), seems to be working from the playbook of Ronald Reagan, giving only modest support to his party's nominee - who could lose as a result.
It's like 1960 in that Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R), in hopes of attracting McCain's supporters, might offer him the vice presidential nomination, hoping desperately that he'll be turned down.
In 1960, of course, John F. Kennedy did the same with Lyndon Johnson, who shocked everyone by accepting. Of course, they won.
And on the Democratic side, Vice President Al Gore is trying to make himself into Harry S Truman, coming from behind and winning on a theme of "I'll fight for you."
The parallels don't suggest how this election will turn out - the race is too close and the election's too far away - but they do involve some lessons for participants and observers.
As McCain indicated in an interview with The New York Times last week, he's fully aware of Reagan's conduct in 1976, which helped lead to the narrow defeat of then-President Gerald Ford.
"I would much prefer not to take that route," he said. In the interview with Alison Mitchell, he seemed to be publicly bargaining with Bush - his "enthusiasm" as a Bush supporter in return for Bush's "fundamental agreement" on his reform agenda.
McCain, significantly, did not rule out another run for president in 2004, which would carry out the parallel with Reagan, who ran and won in 1980.
Whether or not he actually runs again, McCain is certainly doing what he should to prepare the way - campaigning for GOP candidates around the country, regardless of their stance on his agenda.
McCain doubtless believes he, like Reagan, is the leader of a burgeoning new movement in the GOP - "reform" rather than conservatism - that has a good chance of taking over.
But there are differences. Reagan didn't get blamed within the GOP for Ford's defeat, partly because Republican regulars loved him and his ideas. McCain, who doesn't enjoy that goodwill, could be blamed for a Bush defeat.
Moreover, the rightist Reagan did not hand 1976 Democratic candidate Jimmy Carter a treasure trove of sound bites to use against Ford. Every day, Gore quotes McCain to attack Bush - like accusing the governor the other day of being a "Pat Robertson Republican."
Both McCain and Bush have an interest in ending their indirect negotiations and figuring out what it will take to get McCain to enthusiastically support the GOP ticket.
The latest Pew Research Center poll shows that McCain voters are splitting 51 to 41 percent for Gore and that the raucous primary race with McCain cost Bush heavily among groups that lean to McCain - Easterners, older men, Catholics and independents.
McCain could be especially valuable to Bush as a weapon against Gore. McCain has great credibility on all matters that fall under the rubric of "reform," just where Gore is vulnerable.
McCain returned to the Senate last week bashing Gore for 1996 campaign violations, but the press paid little notice. Bush has been wielding the cudgel himself, but McCain's help could be decisive.
So before too much more time elapses, Bush ought to pick up the phone, apologize to McCain for the nastiness inflicted on him in the primaries, say "I need you, friend," and work out an alliance.
Who knows? 1960 might happen all over again. Bush, valuing loyalty above all things, might be reluctant to offer McCain the No. 2 spot - or might offer it just for show, JFK-LBJ style, crediting McCain's so-far adamant rejection of the idea.
But what an opportunity the No. 2 spot on the ticket could be for McCain - rehabilitation and instant 2004 frontrunnerhood if McCain performs well and the ticket loses, a not-bad perch from which to affect policy if it won.
On the other side of the great divide, meantime, Gore's Truman re-enactment continues. The fighting theme is part of every speech and so is the righteous calumny heaped on the Republicans.
Right now, for instance, Gore is launching a series of "school days" designed to seize back the normally Democratic issue of education, where Bush has pulled even.
In 1948, Truman did not catch and pass Republican Thomas E. Dewey until the last minute. Gore has already caught up with Bush. In the Pew poll, Gore actually leads by 6 points.
So, this isn't 1948. It's sui generis: eight months of nonstop combat over
issues, ethics and personality. For contentiousness, this one could make
03/28/00: Will Bush, Gore Go for a Better Way To Pick Nominees?