Why Gore Isn't a Sure Thing: The Political Class Is Already Talking about 'President Gore,' but Don't Count Bush Out

By Alter, Jonathan | Newsweek, March 20, 2000 | Go to article overview

Why Gore Isn't a Sure Thing: The Political Class Is Already Talking about 'President Gore,' but Don't Count Bush Out


Alter, Jonathan, Newsweek


Thirty-five more weeks to go. That's 35 exasperating weeks of two white boys headed for the 'hood wearing old Malcolm X T shirts reading: by any means necessary.

We're told that the new warp-speed news culture will give us nonstop politics from now until November. This is fatuous. Politics has become a cable event, like cooking or old movies, but even in cableland the interest is already flagging. Unlike Bill Clinton and John McCain, neither George W. Bush nor Al Gore is even mildly entertaining, which means they'll soon get zapped by our collective remote.

So it's President Gore? The political class seems to think it's all over but the shouting. McCain's mutiny left Bush without enough support from the independents and crossover voters essential to any victory. The presumptive GOP nominee is callow and smirky and will wear poorly over time. Meanwhile the Democrats are more united, and have spent the past eight years inoculating themselves against all the old "wedge" issues (soft on crime, big spenders) that killed them in the past. Even the Republicans agree that Gore is fit for high office, a point they tacitly admitted during the impeachment vote last year, when they seemed all too willing to make him president.

But Bush has eons of political time to reposition himself in the center while maintaining his solid Southern base. In fact, the NEWSWEEK Poll shows him leading by 11 points among self-described independents. It's as silly to think of Gore as a sure winner now as it was for Sen. Pat Moynihan and others to think of him as a sure loser six months ago. The vice president is a better candidate this year, but earth-toned suits, a Nashville address and alpha-male primary victories haven't given him a personality transplant. Bush will get his innings. With a couple of clutch hits (or poor economic quarters), he can win.

Bush is not as smart as Gore, a handicap in a world that increasingly belongs to the swift. But the Synapse Gap also greatly lowers the expectations for Bush. For all of Gore's vaunted debating skills, Dan Quayle held his own against him in 1992, partly because expectations for Quayle were nonexistent. And Bush is no Quayle; he routinely bested McCain in later primary debates. Gore, meanwhile, has to worry about looking like an Eddie Haskell. Even if he wins the debates on points, Bush might prevail overall with some well-timed one-liners.

Buddhist-temple jabs and Internet-creation jokes may get stale, but Bush will have other material. His campaign manager, Karl Rove, already previewed one retort for me: should Gore say, as he often does, that his administration "grew" the economy, Bush will turn to the camera and reply: "If you believe they 'grew' the economy, vote for them; if you believe that you--American entrepreneurs--did it, then give us a chance. …

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