Ballot Box

Notes on Bush

CHARLESTON, S.C.–ITEM: At various campaign stops around the state, George W. Bush has charged that a lot of Democrats are planning to vote for John McCain because they think McCain would be a weaker candidate against Al Gore in November. This claim is unsupported by any evidence. It’s also preposterous. I’ve talked to several budding “McCain Democrats” in South Carolina and elsewhere. They’re all voting for McCain, or considering voting for McCain, because they’re attracted to him and his views. I have yet to meet one who thinks McCain would be a weaker challenger to Gore than Bush would be. Nor is there any objective support for Bush’s contention that he would be the stronger Republican nominee. The most recent CBS/New York Times poll shows both McCain and Bush running one point ahead of Gore in head-to-head match-ups. What’s more, I have never seen evidence of tactical voting as a popular phenomenon in any election. You might have expected it to happen in 1996, when it would have been shrewd for Democrats to vote for Pat Buchanan in the early Republican primaries in order to weaken likely nominee Bob Dole, instead of voting for Bill Clinton, who was running uncontested. But they didn’t, because American voters aren’t as a Machiavellian as that. What we can expect to see and what an open primary like South Carolina’s does encourage is opportunistic voting. Given a choice between voting now in a thrilling Republican contest in which a few thousand ballots one way or the other may decide the outcome for the whole country, and waiting several weeks to help ratify a foregone conclusion, many Democrats and independents will sensibly choose the former contest. The fact that many of these same voters may ultimately decide to vote for Gore in the general election even if McCain wins the Republican nomination doesn’t mean they’re voting for McCain now to help Gore later. They’re making a rational choice, not a cynical one.

ITEM: At his press conference in Florence, S.C., yesterday, Bush was asked whether he now wished he had spoken out against the interracial-dating policy at Bob Jones University when he visited there, as Alan Keyes argued Bush should have done in Tuesday night’s debate. Bush responded that he “wasn’t very aware of the interracial-dating policy” before his visit to the school. Like Bush’s recent claim about why he didn’t speak to the Log Cabin Republicans, this was a transparent and self-serving lie. The fact that Bob Jones University bans interracial dating is the only thing most people know about Bob Jones University. It has been a national issue for more than a decade. Indeed, Bob Jones III called W.’s father a “devil” when he took the position that the university should lose its tax-exempt status because of its discriminatory policies. For candidate Bush to be so clueless as to be unaware of this history would almost be worse than his lying about it.

ITEM: I can’t tell you about what Bush does and says when he comes back on his campaign plane to horse around with reporters because it’s all off the record. But I can tell you he resents having to schmooze with the press because he makes his feelings abundantly evident when he kids around on the record. Bush, who loves nicknames and shorthand, has taken to referring to his campaign plane as “Accessibility One.” This is a joke, and not a bad one, about the way that he has been compelled to emulate John McCain’s media-friendly strategy. But it’s also a way of making clear that he’s making nice under protest.