Bauer's graciousness was all the more admirable in the face of George Bush's reaction to?and let us be precise about what happened here?the biggest blowout in New Hampshire primary history. It wasn't surprising that McCain scored his largest margin of victory (70-21) among those Republicans who said "character" was the big issue of the campaign. Because in his concession speech, Bush seemed to be trying to strike a delicate balance between Mussolini's claim that he'd been deposed because the Italian people weren't worthy of his greatness and Brecht's suggestion that the East German government should dissolve the people and elect a new one.
"South Carolina is Bush country," Dubya proclaimed. By this he meant New Hampshire was not, and his Southeast political coordinator Warren Tompkins was quick to point out why. "Once again, New Hampshire goes for the Republican who's not going to win the nomination," Tompkins said. "South Carolina is again in position to straighten out the mess New Hampshire made of the process. We're fully prepared. We've been expecting this." That is, while New Hampshirites had actually had the gall to examine the candidates, South Carolinians would assure that the national Republican brass was treated with the deference to which it had grown accustomed. All over the Palmetto State (as it's called in election season), local patriots were bragging about what a herd of conformist lugnuts they all were. Bill Broach, of Winthrop University in Rock Hill, said: "This is not New Hampshire. We don't have the Yankee independent spirit around here."
Everything reverses itself now, as in Goh, that Japanese tile game in which one well-placed tiddlywink can change the whole board from black to white. Bush's biggest advantages were turning into disadvantages. Last week, the cute trick he pulled with Albany's Republican machine to keep McCain off the New York ballot blew up in his face, feeding an antiestablishment reputation that is McCain's lifeblood. (And which?aside from not being George Bush?he's done little to deserve.) Twenty-four hours after New Hampshire, the Bush camp was begging George Pataki to find a way to get McCain on the ballot. I think it was either Huey or Earl Long who said, "In politics, there's such a thing as killing a fellow too dead."
Roughly tied in South Carolina, the candidate of "compassionate conservatism" felt he had to launch his campaign at right-wing Bob Jones University. Bush will probably now have his feet held to the fire on the issue of South Carolina's flying the Confederate battle flag over the Statehouse. Alan Keyes, the last of the second-tier candidates to see the writing on the wall (writing that says: "Get a job!"), is known to feel passionately about taking it down.
Bush still has formidable advantages. Chief among them is not his money but the fact that there's so little reason to vote for McCain. The Senator's left-wing campaign finance reform contains about one soundbite worth of thought?once you get past that, McCain is lost. His tax plan is incoherent. In Kosovo, he showed a hair-trigger readiness to put the U.S. military at the service of Albanian drug dealers. But for now, McCain is enjoying what a political-operative friend of mine calls the "French woman" effect. The plainer he was to start with, the more impressive his prettied-up campaign looks. All those pundits who insisted up until Jan. 31 that McCain had to win both New Hampshire and South Carolina to stay alive turned out to be wrong. If Bush can't win in a conservative, conformist, obedient state like South Carolina, he can't compete anywhere. It's Bush who must win in South Carolina to stay alive.
Forbes' Class Oh, gosh, I almost forgot about the Delaware Republican primary this week. Perhaps that's because it's a totally nugatory contest that John McCain isn't even campaigning in. Steve Forbes, who won the state in 1996, seems to be making his last stand there. The most likely outcome is a second- or third-place finish for Forbes, with fewer voters than you could fit into a modest-sized lecture hall. If Gary Bauer's electorate-repulsion is best measured in hours per voter, Forbes's is best measured in dollars. Thus far, he's paid the equivalent of a week's wage for everyone he's brought on board his bandwagon.
It's nice to have that kind of money to throw around two elections in a row. But one thing pundits have lost sight of is that, by today's standards, Forbes isn't particularly rich. He's worth between $100 and $400 million, depending on whose estimates you believe. Should stock market returns ever fall to 5 percent?as they must?he'll need all of that $400 million to earn a million a year without eating up his interest. (If you can't live off the interest off your interest, you have a shrinking fortune.) Besides, a million dollars isn't that outrageous an income nowadays?there are probably a million Americans who make that much in a year, and most movie stars pull in dozens of times as much.
His is an old-economy fortune, not even comparable to Bill Gates', which is literally hundreds of times larger. What's going on in the world of megafortunes is rather like what happened at the end of the last century. Newspapers treated the local pulp-mill owner as some kind of grandee, when he probably couldn't afford to buy dog food for a railroad baron or newspaper magnate. In like fashion, people persist in looking at Forbes as if he were some kind of Daddy Warbucks. How come? My guess is they've grown comfortable with the stereotype of the GOP as the fatcat party. It still is to a degree (look at the Bush financial operation), but that's changing fast. Most of the hyperplutocrats of tomorrow will be Democrats. What senators, for instance, approach the Forbes neighborhood? Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, John Kerry and Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, Johnnie Edwards of North Carolina?Democrats all. Look at Michael Ciresi, the Minnesota lawyer who's running in the Democratic Senate primary there?a real nobody, except that his firm pocketed $440 million from Minnesota's share of the federal tobacco deal.
Superego Trip Last week's quote of the week came from the Daily News. One nameless New York Democrat was griping about Hillary's media operation. The paper quoted him as worrying that, with both Mandy Grunwald and Mark Penn wanting to run the show, "There will be so many superegos involved..." Sorry, Clinton campaign operatives don't have superegos.
Nor does anyone in Al Gore's campaign, which is why The Wall Street Journal's Al Hunt gets quote-of-the-week runner-up. In the midst of a superb column about the Vice President's months-long lying binge (or, as Hunt puts it, "distortions and misrepresentations"), Hunt writes, "Mr. Gore, a decent man, knows better."
Yeah. As in: Mr. Dahmer, a decent man, should change his diet.