Who's aborting the Bush campaign?

By Joe Schembrie
web posted July 24, 2000

George W. Bush's poll numbers slipped big time last week. Campaign staffers are hoping that it's just a statistical burp.

But a still small voice says that perhaps the Bush campaign is on the verge of a debacle.

True, according to pollster Scott Rasmussen, random factors ('noise') do cause about one out of twenty polls to be a 'clunker.' The type of question asked, such as forcing Undecideds to choose prematurely, can also cause deviations. And (Rasmussen doesn't say this, I do) the integrity of the pollster matters too.

Nonetheless, the trend disturbs. Just a month ago, Bush was consistently up by nine to twelve points over Gore. Now he's leading by only five points in the Zogby poll, barely three in the CNN and CBS polls, and Gallup has him at a toss-up. It's highly improbable that a spate of 'clunker' polls would come all at once. We may well be witnessing a genuine political phenomenon.

But it's been such a quiet two months! What could cause it?

Gore's tenant finally left, upset that her toilet never got fixed -- but never in a political scientist's midsummer night's dream could that explain a trend away from Bush.

Hillary has been smarting under accusations about making an anti-Semitic remark -- so is there a sympathy backlash on behalf of the kindest, bravest, most wonderful Clinton Reich? You go right on believing that.

Or did President Clinton's 'peace in our time' deal in the Middle East, with a price tag of fifteen billion dollars, enthusiastically captivate the American electorate?

(Okay, stop laughing . . . . )

Many observers note that Clinton fatigue is real, that Gore is lame, and that this election is Bush's to lose. So what has Bush himself done that might cause slippage?

Was it the execution of Gary Graham? But if the public supported Bush as strongly as it does capital punishment, he would win by a landslide.

There have been allegations that Bush bankrupted his state government. But voters can plainly see that Texas fares better than Arkansas ever did.

There is one major news item associated with George W. Bush which has attracted widespread public attention, particularly that of the conservative rank and file who are expected to loyally vote for Bush in November. That major news item has to do with his selection of a vice presidential running mate -- and whether that candidate is pro-life or pro-choice.

Ah, the Abortion Controversy! The rogue rhinoceros rampaging in the parlor of American political life. Political apparatchiks like to pretend the rhino isn't there. Or that mere expressions of distaste will make the debate go away.

But it won't. It can't.

The other day, while surfing the web, I inadvertently scrolled upon a photograph of a late-term aborted baby. The body wasn't mangled, there was little blood on the towel.

The head, however, had been severed.

For millions of people like myself, that kind of image reaches deep inside heart and soul, to a place where no two-percent privatized Social Security investment proposal can touch. People of many faiths, and even no faith at all, are moved by the tragedy of tiny mutilated lives, and passionately want the carnage to stop.

Moderate Republicans neither share nor comprehend that feeling, which is why the obvious seldom occurs to them: that dismissing the pro-life position could sink their election hopes.

So here's former President Gerald Ford, in his capacity as moderate Republican Trial Balloon Launcher, telling the NY Daily News, "I'd like to throw the whole issue out of the partisan political arena. The less said about it, the better it is for the campaign and the party." But he clearly doesn't apply the same vow of silence to himself, because in the same interview he declares: "A pro-choice running mate would help Gov. Bush and help the party. I feel very strongly that way."

Though Ford would never crush the skulls of fetuses, he's not above stabbing the backs of pro-lifers: "Where are they gonna go? If the choice is Gore or Bush, they won't stay home."

But what if they do? An AP poll of GOP convention delegates says one-fourth could not support a pro-choice VP. A CBS poll says one-third of Bush supporters couldn't either. Desertions of such magnitude could cost the election. And as we've seen, recent presidential preference polls already show Bush losing two-thirds of his lead merely by waffling over the VP/abortion question.

The implication of the polling data is too clear to evade. If moderate Republicans pressure Bush too far into accommodation with pro-choicers, they may ultimately have to accept responsibility for aborting his campaign.

Joe Schembrie is a senior writer with Enter Stage Right.

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