Monday, January 17, 2000

With the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary almost upon us, this is a good time to take one more look at the field of presidential candidates and make our pre-primary predictions.
First, the Republicans:
* George W. Bush: You don’t have to be a political pundit to know the Texas governor, miles ahead of his nearest rival nationally, is going to win the GOP nomination. He’ll take Iowa and may achieve a narrow win in New Hampshire over John McCain.
A popular, personable, tax-cutting governor from a big electoral state, Mr. Bush is running on a conservative agenda right out of Ronald Reagan’s play book: Lower tax rates, expanding free trade, deregulation, tort reform, a stronger defense, school vouchers, personal Social Security retirement investment accounts, and a Reaganlike optimism about the future.
But the biggest thing Mr. Bush has going for him in this race is character, spiritual values, and a sense of dignity about the office of the president, after one of the most embarrassing, tawdry, scandal-ridden presidencies in our history.
* John McCain: A well-meaning Vietnam hero whose biggest failure is that he has more in common with the Democrats than with the GOP on some very big issues.
Health care? Sen. Edward Kennedy’s Patient Bill of Rights to turn health-care policy over to the lawyers. Campaign-finance reform? More federal regulations to restrict your freedom to financially support the parties and candidates of your choice. Taxes? His plan does not cut a single tax rate. He likes Bill Clinton’s higher tax rates where they are now.
If Mr. McCain loses New Hampshire, he will be finished and will drop out of the race. But even if he wins by a hair, there is no second act for him. Mr. Bush is too strong in the remaining states. Mr. McCain is struggling to hold his own in Arizona.
* Steve Forbes: He is the keeper of the conservative flame on almost every issue, but he does not understand that Americans want their presidents to have some experience in a lower office. His father, who ran for governor, could have told him that.
Still, Mr. Forbes has boldly pushed his party to be more aggressive on tax reform and privatizing Social Security. He champions the cause of free-market capitalism at a time when others in the party have forgotten it is the basis of our liberty and prosperity.
Yet, despite millions of dollars spent, he remains stuck in the single digits and is going nowhere. He’ll be gone soon after New Hampshire. He should be running for governor of New Jersey.
* Orrin Hatch: A hard-working lawmaker who has influenced a broad range of legislation that has affected our lives. But when the veteran Utah senator announced he was running last summer, his spur-of-the-moment decision looked as though it didn’t have much thought behind it.
Mr. Hatch, like Mr. McCain, does not understand one of the strongest trends in American politics. Americans are looking outside of Washington for their presidents. Mr. Hatch is part of this city’s permanent political establishment, and thus hardly seems to be someone who is going to bring about change. He will drop out in early February.
* Gary Bauer: Sincere, likable, talented. But Mr. Bauer has never understood the basic principles that Ronald Reagan taught us. Successful candidates must craft big, broad agendas based on some large ideas, such as lower tax rates and expanding free trade that appeal to the broadest possible constituency. Mr. Bauer embraces a narrow agenda: combating abortion, homosexual rights and trade with China. But these are not, rightly or wrongly, what most people are concerned about. So he’s barely at 1 percent in the polls and, perversely, may be hurting the causes he fervently believes in.
* Alan Keyes: A gifted orator who is in the wrong business, Mr. Keyes should be ordained and find a church where he can preach spiritual values which he does brilliantly. He should at least get a seven-day-a-week national radio talk show.
But policy is not his strong suit. He calls for replacing the income tax with a national sales tax and tariffs on imported goods. Guess who would then spend the lion’s share of their incomes on taxes? The poor and lower-income Americans who can least afford to do so.
Now for the Democrats:
* Bill Bradley: The former New Jersey senator left the Senate, saying “the system is broken.” Now he is running for president as a combination of George McGovern, Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis. Lofty and aloof, he conveys an intellectual arrogance that seems to say “I know what’s best.”
Mr. Bradley seems to be running a seminar in political theory rather than a campaign. Northeast liberals and independents, such as those who fled high-tax Massachusetts for low-tax New Hampshire, find him appealing. He’ll win New Hampshire; but he’ll lose to Mr. Gore in Iowa, the South, in Border States, and at the convention.
* Al Gore: He has been lurching to the left so fast it is hard to keep up with him. Caving in to homosexual activists, he will junk the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and allow homosexuals to openly serve in the military. He wants to license handgun purchasers. He defends his campaign manager’s racist, polarizing appeals to minority voters.
But these and other liberal issues pale against the biggest obstacle of all that blocks his path to the presidency: Bill Clinton. Americans want to be rid of everything and everyone associated with the Clintons. Mr. Gore will get the nomination and go down to defeat in a landslide.

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent of The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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