Next time (Part Two)

By Leo K. O'Drudy, III
web posted December 18, 2000

Two weeks ago this space ran an extra-early preview of the 2004 race, listing possible contenders and their various chances for running and winning in the event that the Vice President's effort to steal the 2000 election succeeded.

Since those schemes have failed and the President-elect has been finally been awarded the election he won more than one month ago, let's take another look at the field in that new light.

Al GoreAl Gore. Not good. As expected, after weeks of desperate, divisive, incendiary, and meritless accusations, lawsuits, and recounts, he has finally ended everyone's ordeal with a heavy-handed flourish of good sportsmanship and ostentatious good grace. When he finished his speech Wednesday night one almost expected him to look around expectantly for the approving applause his "statesmanship" so clearly deserved. The media, of course, was happy to oblige.

However, there are signs this effort has come too little, too late. Widely respected veteran reporter Robert Novak recently revealed that the Democratic Party's patience with and goodwill for Gore has been exhausted. By losing, Gore squandered a priceless set of gifts: a relatively easy path to the nomination, a reputation for honest and earnest competence, a united party, plenty of money and motivated ground troops, a sympathetic media, and two successful terms of peace and prosperity. Washington veterans know that the Democrats are deadly serious about winning, and do not tolerate losers. In contrast to the GOP, which allowed Bob Dole three serious shots at the Presidency after losing his vice presidential bid in 1976, the Democrats may well consign Gore to the outer darkness of ambassadorships and academia to join McGovern, Mondale, Dukakis, et al., as they wail and gnash their teeth.

Even the black wing of his party may not save him. He clearly wants to be the wronged martyr for their cause, as we saw in his concession speech's pander to them. But Gore also wants to avoid blame for the rabble-rousing dirty work of Jesse Jackson and his rent-a-riot friends, a taint he will not easily shed.

Hillary! Rodham Clinton. Very good. If Gore's star fades, Hillary!'s will rise. After a brief period of "humble" silence, she will emerge as the de facto, if not de jure, leader of the Democrats in Congress. And as noted last week, her promise to serve out her Senate term (and, implicitly, not run for president in 2004) can be easily discarded, with minimal media fuss. She will gain national prominence pushing for socialism and denouncing Bush nominees. Watch Hillary! closely.

Joe Lieberman. Mixed bag. The Democrats have little love for failure, and Lieberman failed. Moreover, he won few friends with his selfish, but wise, insistence on also running for re-election to the Senate instead of letting another Democrat win his seat. His reason: to retain his Senate seat in case he and Gore lost the White House. Had he and Gore won the White House, Lieberman would have had to resign from the Senate, and his state's Republican governor would have appointed a GOPer in Lieberman's place. By putting himself above his party, Lieberman did not endear himself to it.

However, Lieberman did help Gore exceed expectations significantly. Many had expected a Bush landslide, but Lieberman helped his running mate half-emerge from Clinton's moral tarpit, and also put Florida, with its large population of retired Jews, into play.

Look for Lieberman to get some mileage with his party and the public at large out of wringing his hands on the Senate floor over the happy promise of bipartisanship at the beginning of the Bush Administration being tragically ruined by GOP stubbornness (read: insufficiently total surrender).
Gray Davis. Very good. His name was openly floated by the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee as a 2004 contender even before Gore lost at the Supreme Court. With a moderate image on many issues and a firm grip on California's mighty political and money machine, Davis' momentum following his 2002 re-election may be unstoppable.

John McCainJohn McCain. Unknown. Last week this space speculated that McCain would anonymously undermine Bush to promote himself. That was inaccurate; instead McCain is doing so openly. He is repeatedly emphasizing that Gore won the popular vote, has endorsed giving the Democrats equal power in the Senate, is seeking to exploit the Florida mess to push his campaign finance "reform" bill (irrelevant though it is to the Florida problems), and is warning Bush to govern "from the center". Remember McCain's desperate efforts in the waning days of the nomination fight to describe himself as a proud Reagan Republican? Now we see how sincere he was.

Despite his adoring media coverage and deep warchests (due to his lucrative committee chairmanship), however, it is unlikely that McCain's recent actions will help him win the GOP nomination against Bush in 2004. And his health is questionable; the Arizona native has battled skin cancer.

Ralph Nader. Not good. His only hope for 2004 was an economic downturn. That is unlikely to occur under Bush.

Pat Buchanan. As above, but if Bush gives him enough room to run on the social issues, Buchanan will take it.

George W. Bush. Quite good. His tax cuts, even if watered down, will serve as a tonic for a tiring economy, and prosperity will be a tremendous help.

Bush is keenly aware of the need for an upright and positive example at last in the Oval Office, and that can only be good for our ailing culture. An electorate anxious about our moral health may well be grateful.

And the military will, at last, get its funding boost and deployment slowdown. A wiser foreign policy and rejuvenated military, combined with a missile defense program, will reduce the odds of war and sneak attack. Always helpful for presidents seeking re-election.

Much depends, however, on Bush getting the right men as committee chairman in the House. Weldon, Crane, and Hyde will be absolutely key in giving Bush a successful term. Liberal tax-cut skeptic Bill Thomas, Crane's rival, is a serious threat to Bush's agenda.

Also, for his own benefit as well as America's, Bush needs to find the courage to resist, if not roll back, the forces of Political Correctness. Women in combat and homosexuals in the military will not discourage foreign aggressors. Environmental over-regulation and racial preferences will not help the economy. And lifestyle liberalism, if funded and encouraged by the federal government, will not help bring about the "responsibility era" Bush hopes to usher in.

Don't fool yourself, the campaign has already begun. Let's see how it plays out.

Contact Leo O'Drudy at lodrudy@freecongress.org.

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