!DOCTYPE HTML PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 3.2 Final//EN">
Jewish World Review Feb. 24, 2000 /18 Adar I, 5760
firewall, after all
http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- IT SEEMS that both John McCain and television's talking heads underestimated the strength and resolve of South Carolina's conservative Republicans. In forecasting the end of the conservative movement, they factored in everything except conservatives themselves.
McCain undertook a task that was too ambitious, even with the unbridled assistance of the major media. He didn't simply try to expand the Republicans' base. He attempted to hijack the party itself for independents, disaffected Democrats and reform-craving malcontents of every stripe. In South Carolina at least, conservative Republicans had a different idea about whose party it is.
Ronald Reagan reached out to independents and boll weevil Democrats, but he didn't abandon grass-roots conservatives in the process. While McCain said he was using the Reagan model of inclusion, he was actually employing the politics of exclusion -- exclusion of conservatives.
McCain didn't just ignore the right wing of his party. He went out of his way to offend them. Could there be some truth to that rumor that McCain has a habit of demonizing those who have an honest disagreement with him? Just as he has impugned the integrity of many of his Senate colleagues, he accused pro-life organizations of corruption because they opposed his reform proposal they believed would effectively mute their defense of the unborn.
McCain didn't appear concerned about alienating traditional Republicans because he was expecting to overwhelm them with heavy turnout among Democrats and independents. Intoxicated from his New Hampshire victory fumes, McCain apparently thought he could forge a new coalition under the GOP umbrella and maybe even add the Reform Party as well.
He had so energized crossover voters in New Hampshire that he convinced himself that he could do the same in South Carolina and subsequent states, especially those with open primaries. What he obviously failed to anticipate was that by polarizing grass-roots Republicans, he ignited a backlash that caused them to turn out in droves.
McCain must have been guilty of the same kind of thinking that led George Stephanopolous of ABC's "This Week" to the scintillating observation that, "Excluding Christian conservatives, Bush lost among Republicans." Yes, George, and excluding their wings airplanes won't fly, either.
Beyond misreading the GOP base, McCain also made another grave miscalculation. He grossly underestimated George W. Bush and his ability and willingness to fight back.
Unlike Sen. Bill Bradley, who initially failed to return hostile fire from Al Gore until it was too late, Bush rapidly and forcefully responded to McCain's negative campaigning. And when McCain cried foul as Bush shot back, Bush was undaunted and undeterred.
McMedia apologists are blaming Bush's victory on negative campaigning, too much money and the religious right. But exit-polling data shows that voters believed that it was McCain, and not Bush, who had engaged in unfair tactics. And isn't it funny that before the vote results shell-shocked the media, they were saying that Bush's war chest and the religious right were impotent against this populist reformer?
George Bush was running a sleepy campaign prior to New Hampshire. But his stunning defeat there woke him up. He realized that the presidency would not be given to him; he was going to have to earn it. And he came out of Austin ready for a duel.
In the weeks leading up to the South Carolina vote, we witnessed Bush growing before our very eyes. The adversity of the McCain challenge ripened him into a mature candidate. While McCain was trying to create the impression of a stature gap between himself and Bush, it was Bush who emerged as the gracious adult, as evidenced by his victory speech and post-election interviews. McCain's concession remarks were riddled with bitterness, hostility and negative innuendo directed at Bush.
Democratic operatives smugly contend that this Republican civil war is going to make Bush a sitting duck for Al Gore. To the contrary, the contest has groomed Bush for battle. Dubya's default campaign mode may be less aggressive than necessary, but when attacked he has proven himself to be a ferocious counterpuncher. Since Gore is a ruthless campaigner who knows only one speed (which is to relentlessly assault his opponent), he is made to order for the Bush campaign.
Let's get ready to
02/22/00:Bush or four more of Clinton-Gore?