Let George Undo It

Bush's Big Tent Has Some Tears—Even on the Right Side

As of this week, at least, the Bush campaign is running on the success of the "war against terror"—in Iraq and Afghanistan and at home. This is an attempt to deflect attention from what's happening with George W. Bush's main base of support: corporate execs rewarding his policies on taxes, the environment, and other business issues with more and more campaign cash.

Whether the Democrats will be able to build a cohesive base (both parties have had to deal with dangerously shifting coalitions) to take advantage of Bush's pandering toward the business class is another question. But it's not impossible.

As of June, Bush had raised $35 million, with current estimates of the size of his war chest, according to The Washington Post, standing at $55 million. Helen Thomas, the veteran White House correspondent, speculated back in June that Bush wanted to raise $200 million, which would be a record. In 2000 Bush raised $191 million, compared with Gore's $133 million.

Staged presence: Dubya brings his  show to Kansas City.
photo: Tina Hager whitehouse.gov
Staged presence: Dubya brings his show to Kansas City.

Despite all that money, at least some political professionals think Bush can be beaten. "The mathematics is becoming more and more plausible every day," Geoff Garin, of Peter Hart Research Associates, told the Voice. A Gallup poll last week showed Bush's approval down to 52 percent. Pollsters found Bush leading a Democrat (not a particular one) by only four points, 47-43. "Bush still enjoys an advantage as commander in chief," said Garin, "but the value of that advantage has declined substantially over the past few weeks as people come to see Iraq as less compelling a success. And because the national-security situation has diminished, Bush's economic vulnerabilities weigh more heavily in the balance."

A new Hart poll shows that by an 11-point margin people say they are more dissatisfied than satisfied with the direction of the country. "The votes are there," said Garin, "and the ingredients in terms of public opinion and public attitudes are there. And the electoral votes are there: It only takes a switch of one state."

Past Tents and Present Tents

Right-wing alliances, often important to the GOP during presidential campaigns, would appear to be shifting.

For the Bush camp, by far the most unsettling situation is the California recall election—whenever it eventually takes place. A win by Arnold Schwarzenegger would not necessarily be a win for the Republican right. The Terminator is a more or less liberal Republican—pro-gay, pro-choice, sympathetic to environmentalists. He has said the Clinton impeachment made him ashamed to be a Republican. The Bush administration is gangbusters on cutting taxes, but Schwarzenegger is noncommittal on this key GOP strategy. As an immigrant, he is scarcely opposed to immigration per se, as are many on the right who call either for a moratorium or severe racial profiling. In sum, at least on paper, Arnold represents everything the GOP right detests. And yet, many of the right-wing leaders—the same ones blathering on and on since Reagan about sticking to their "principles"—have lined up behind him. Pat Robertson is embracing Schwarzenegger—who did drugs and participated in orgies in the '70s—as his kind of guy. Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter and Bill O'Reilly all have fallen for Arnold. That may be fine for the California recall, but having a moderate Republican stir the blood is not necessarily good for the GOP right-wingers' big vote next year.

Especially with another potential tear in the fabric of the GOP's big tent—this one involving young males. In California, as The New York Times pointed out Sunday, polls are showing that young white men—a traditional base for the conservative Republican Party since Nixon—voted in greater numbers in 2000 than women and seem to be ready to embrace the Terminator's moderate politics. This can only strain the fabric of the GOP's tent, under which Bush the Younger has so skillfully accommodated the Christian right, libertarian economics, free trade, and traditional conservative Main Street greed. By embracing the right, Bush sought to rectify the mistakes of his father, who went down to defeat when he ignored it. Still, can the president who trashed the environment and condemned gay marriage do an about-face and embrace a dope-smoking orgy-goer who hasn't gone born-again?

More Trouble on the Right

And forget California for a minute. Conservatives of all stripes are screeching at the out-of-control deficit and the skyrocketing costs of Iraq. Others—from David Keene of the American Conservative Union to Paul Weyrich, a founder of the New Right decades ago, and Lori Waters, D.C. director of Phyllis Schlafly's anti-abortion, anti-feminist Eagle Forum, are lined up against Bush to fight the Patriot Act. Grover Norquist, a plugged-in Republican wheeler-dealer who represents or has represented Microsoft and the NRA, is also opposing Bush on the Patriot Act. These conservatives, led by former Georgia congressman and Clinton inquisitor Bob Barr, have formed a coalition with the ACLU to save their constitutional rights. Of course, these people are not so much worried about Ashcroft as they are about what might happen to them should Hillary Clinton become president.

Bush's stronghold is the pro-military South, where his campaign stop at Fort Steward, Georgia, was greeted last week with a thunderous welcome from the Third Infantry. Little did the troops realize that the photo of rank upon file of soldiers saluting the commander in chief was a priceless campaign shot, right up there with Bush's carefully staged carrier landing. For now, Bush's campaign works splendidly in the South, which also has big numbers of right-wing Christians and young white men. The one exception is Florida, whose support, despite the presence of brother Jeb, Bush can't take for granted. "As of right now, even the state's strongest Democrat could not beat Bush in Florida," Brad Coker of Mason-Dixon Polling & Research told the Voice last week. Bush is certainly not vulnerable in Florida on military matters, but the economy could be a problem there. "If you're going to get Bush in the South," he said, "it's going to have to be an economic issue, much like Clinton in 1996."

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