Click on banner ad to support JWR

Jewish World Review May 18, 2000 / 13 Iyar, 5760

Ben Wattenberg

Ben Wattenberg
JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
James Glassman
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Arianna Huffington
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Jackie Mason
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Debbie Schlussel
Sam Schulman
Roger Simon
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports


Is it 2000, or 1988? -- AS OF NOW, the next president will be George W. Bush. So sayeth the polls, but it's more than that. The theory of the "Republican Lock" may be re-emerging.

During the first eight national surveys taken in January of 2000, Bush's average lead over Al Gore was 10.3 percentage points, but the public didn't know much about Bush.

Then came the primaries. Gore ran against Sen. Bill Bradley. The campaign turned into a standard Democratic bidding contest: lefter than thou, gayer than thou, tanner than thou, blacker than thou, greener than thou, choicier than thou, anti-gunnier than thou. Gore slashed and burned; Bradley didn't answer well enough or soon enough. Gore won quickly and solidly.

Bush's road was longer, against a better candidate: John McCain. Much has been made about Bush's moving far right to win, but there's little evidence to back it up. What the campaign revealed was that Bush was a worse television campaigner than had been thought.

During eight consecutive polls bracketed around the March 7 Super Tuesday primaries, Gore gained ground: Bush led by an average of 1 percentage point -- that is, dead even. The pundits were unanimous: It was going to be A Very Close Race.

But the eight most recent national polls, through May 10, show Bush up by 5.8 percentage points, not a lot, but not nothing. Bush was slammed, and bounced back to what seems to be the baseline of the election. Barring the unexpected (never a good idea) what you see is what you'll get.

Presidential politics rarely change as much, nor as fast, as they are said to change. Old patterns often re-appear. From 1968 to 1988, Republicans won five of six presidential races and there was said to be a "Republican Lock." The huge and consistently Republican geographic "L" of the Inner West and the South plus a couple of Midwestern swing states would yield a GOP win. That was the pattern in 1988, the last presidential race with two major candidates. George H.W. Bush beat Michael Dukakis, 53 percent to 46 percent, not a lot, but not nothing.

Then came Bill Clinton, superstar. But in his two races, Clinton never got a majority of the vote (43 percent and 49 percent). Ross Perot got 19 percent in 1992, and 8 percent in 1996, likely helping Clinton more than the GOP candidates. Moreover, Clinton created the impression, or the reality, or both, that he had "moved the Democratic Party back to the center."

Gore now faces 1988-style problems. Yes, there will likely be a Reform Party candidate in 2000. But it won't be Ross Perot. Most likely is Pitchfork Pat Buchanan, now getting only 3 percent to 4 percent in the polls, drawing votes evenly from Bore and Gush. This time there will be a fourth-party candidate, Ralph Nader, who ran in 1996 as the Green Party nominee in 22 states, spent only $5,000, and got 1 percent of the vote. This year he says he will raise $5 million and be on at least 45 state ballots. He polls at 5 percent, ahead of Buchanan, and almost all his votes come from self-identified liberals. Some California polls show him at 8 percent to 9 percent, which could put solidly Democratic California in play.

Gore may have diluted the value of the New Democrat label during his leftward sprint during the primaries, and subsequently. New Democrats don't cuddle up to radical Rev. Al Sharpton, they don't assail Social Security reforms that enable Americans to own part of their pensions, they don't trash experimentation with school vouchers for poor kids, they don't imply that Americans who have problems with the current form of Affirmative Action are closet racists, they don't predict an environmental holocaust. New Democrat candidates for president don't wink to labor leaders that they'd get a better deal on trade with China from President Gore than President Clinton.

The latest polls show that Americans are ideologically about where they were in 1988: a plurality moderate (47 percent), with conservatives ahead about 3 to 2 among the remainder (31 percent to 22 percent). Gore is seen as a liberal, Bush as a conservative.

The 2000 electoral map looks like 1988's. Bush is polling ahead in the Inner West and the South, including Georgia and Florida, which went Clinton in 1996, now plus 6 percent and 7 percent for Bush. In swing states Bush beats Gore in Ohio (plus 6 percent), Michigan (plus 3 percent), Pennsylvania (plus 3 percent). Illinois is even, and New Jersey is 1 percent on the Gore side. Oregon and Washington, recently solidly Democratic, show Bush with a small lead.

The scoreboard kept by National Journal's "Hotline" shows Bush leading in states with 271 electoral votes with Gore ahead in states with 156. It takes 270 to win. It's not a lot, but it's not nothing. Welcome to 1988.

Ben Wattenberg is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and is the moderator of PBS's "Think Tank." You may comment by clicking here.

Ben Wattenberg Archives

© 2000, NEA