It’s Super Tuesday! This one comes around once every four years. This time around, 16 states will be voting to decide who will be chosen as the nominees for President from the Democratic and Republican parties. This is the closest this country has come to a national primary. In honor of this momentous event, I am hoping to share a few thoughts on the primaries and its four major candidates.
Over Winter Study and through Dead Week, former New Jersey senator Bill Bradley appeared to be the toast of the media and the liberal intellectual elite. The former NBA star came from the political scrap heap to lead in some polls just weeks before the New Hampshire primary. The Senator left New Hampshire with a strong showing in the polls, losing to Vice President Al Gore by just a few percentage points. In the month that has transpired between New Hampshire and Super Tuesday, Bill Bradley has almost disappeared off the political universe to most of America, even though he has been campaigning hard from coast to coast. If you’re thinking Bradley is being ignored because of his opponent’s acute political acumen, you’re highly mistaken.
The New Hampshire primary was predicted by some political pundits to be the first of many victories for Senator Bradley. However, there was a detour on the road to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The detour’s name was John McCain. John McCain, the Republican Senator from Arizona, how could that be? As the tally of votes slowly came into the pressroom, the buzz was no longer about Bradley and his returning the party to the left. Rather, Bernard Shaw, Peter Jennings and all the rest were lauding the stunning upset victory by McCain over party favorite Governor George W. Bush.
McCain was able to maintain his New Hampshire momentum with a strong showing in South Carolina and victories in Arizona and Michigan. As rapid as McCain’s meteoric ascendance has been, there has been an equal and opposite reaction in the polls for Bradley. In one of the greater ironies of the campaign season, Senator McCain has become Gore’s biggest force in defeating Bill Bradley.
There are two lines of thought I have on this phenomenon. In New Hampshire, Bradley and McCain were battling for the same voters – the disenchanted independent voter. Or so it appeared. I recall a CNN political pundit explaining how Bradley’s defeat was most easily explained by McCain’s victory. However, Bradley and McCain are not interchangeable figures. Both are men of change for their respective parties, but in different directions.
Bill Bradley, in a reaction to Clinton’s centrist politics, looked to move the Democratic Party to the “glory” days of the left, noted for such figures as Mario Cuomo, Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis. Unfortunately, Senator Bradley seems to have forgotten why Clinton moved the party to the middle in the first place. In 1992, the Democrats had been out of the White House for a dozen years, thoroughly defeated in 1984 and 1988. Then Governor Clinton picked up the banner of the “New Democrat” – the Democrat’s version of Governor Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” of today. President Clinton, maybe the greatest politician of our day, keenly recognized the need of the Democratic Party to move to the center to win the general election. Al Gore, almost as wily as his presidential running mate, has followed the route Clinton drew up in 1992 and 1996 to take the party nomination and hopefully the general election. As difficult as it is to swallow, Bradley will lose the nomination because he is committed to his ideals. The former Senator will lose because Gore knows how to fight and win political battles.
Bradley, on the other hand, is too proud to fight.
John McCain, on the opposite token, is pushing the Republican Party away from the outer fringes of the Right, back to the center. Throughout his campaign, McCain has labeled himself a “Reagan Republican,” noting his ability to garner support among Republicans, Democrats and Independent voters. What Senator McCain has been able to do is wedge a place for himself between Gore and Bush. McCain correctly saw the strain the Religious Right created in the GOP and how its domination of the party created dissention among more moderate Republicans.
For several weeks now, Bush has been forced to move to his support base on the right of McCain. In the last week, McCain has recoiled from his rhetoric of aligning Bush with the likes of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. However, the image of Bush being intolerant and a voice box for the Radical Right will not abate magically after the party convention. This move may win McCain the nomination, but if not, it will do irreparable damage to a general election between “W” and Gore.
However, if McCain succeeds in defeating Bush for the nomination, it will be credited, in no small part, to his strategic decision to pose himself as a “reformer.” For his so-called revolt against card carrying Republicans, McCain may narrowly lose the nomination. However, his direction is the correct path. As long as Bush relies on a narrow base of support, he will never win the general election.
The Republican Party needs to wake up and realize that its platform is not compatible with most Americans. An entire party cannot be held captive by a small political machine, be it Tammany Hall or the Christian Coalition. People will revolt against such a machine. If the Republican Party takes the more moderate route with McCain, it will have a fighting chance against Gore. If not, then we may soon see the nadir of the Grand Old Party.