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Jewish World Review March 25, 2002/ 12 Nisan, 5762

Don Feder

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In GOP primaries, Bush bungles badly | The White House disavows any role in easing Massachusetts Gov. Jane Swift out of this year's gubernatorial race to pave the way for businessman Mitt Romney. The denial is plausible. Such a move is too practical to be a Bush operation.

In Republican primaries, George Bush has shown a marked preference for candidates with high name recognition and little substance.

Bush is raising an average of $1 million a week for his party. The goals are to hold the House, retake the Senate and end up with enough governorships to facilitate the president's re-election.

While Bush himself won on conservative principles, his strategists apparently believe the 2000 election was an anomaly -- that conservatives are losers and the party's future lies with photogenic frauds.

In the race to replace Republican Sen. Fred Thompson in Tennessee, Bush favors former governor, and perennial presidential hopeful, Lamar Alexander over four-term congressman Ed Bryant, a solid conservative.

Since he rarely said anything of substance, Alexander's presidential bid is best remembered for his plaid shirts. Lloyd Daugherty of the Tennessee Conservative Union says the Bryant-Alexander race is between the "income-tax-supporting, champagne-sipping, brie-nibbling wing of the Tennessee Republican Party, versus the anti-income-tax, fried-chicken-eating, ice-tea-sipping, grass-roots Republican Party."

In North Carolina's Senate race, Bush has embraced Elizabeth Dole, another also-ran in 2000. If Dole ever had a deeply held political principal, it would lead a solitary existence.

As transportation secretary for Ronald Reagan, Dole's big issues were seat belts and keeping the 55-mile-an-hour speed limit. Under her leadership, the American Red Cross derided abstinence education.

Casting about for a cause in her presidential campaign, Dole seized on gun control. She bashed the National Rifle Association and backed mandatory safety locks.

In supporting a ban on so-called assault rifles, Dole asked why an honest citizen would need "an AK-47 or an Uzi to protect their families" -- demonstrating she's not an avid reader of "Guns and Ammo." AK-47s and Uzis are automatic weapons used in combat. Assault rifles are semi-automatic.

The administration's early intervention kept a credible conservative from emerging in the race. It will have to hope against hope that Dole can somehow inspire the party's conservative base in the Tarheel state.

Bush's worst political blunder was backing former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan over conservative investor Bill Simon for the GOP nomination for California governor.

Riordan, who was cloned from incumbent Gov. Gray Davis, favors abortion, quotas and liberal immigration. In his TV spots, the ostensible Republican used clips of himself with Bill Clinton. In fact, Riordan supported the latter's 1993 tax hike and opposed Bush's 2001 tax cut.

The ex-mayor ended up alienating everyone to the right of Dianne Feinstein, whose 1996 Senate campaign he supported. Former Republican Gov. George Deukmejian announced he wouldn't support Riordan if he won the nomination. Ex-New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who agrees with Riordan on social issues, campaigned for his opponent.

Simon trounced Riordan, leaving the Bush people looking like amateur night at the White House Bar and Grill.

Bush operatives don't understand that election victories are built on an activist base. You can't mobilize Republican workers with candidates who spurn the party's traditional message.

Besides, why even bother electing a Dole or an Alexander? Gary Bauer, chairman of the Campaign for Working Families, observes: "What the party desperately needs is senators who can go toe-to-toe with Ted Kennedy and Tom Daschle, and give as good as they get. Instead, we're losing Jesse Helms and getting polite Republicans who lose gracefully."

That's what Bush wants -- country club Republicans who can raise gobs of green, look good on camera and run personality campaigns. From the administration's perspective, ideas are irrelevant.

If Ronald Reagan sought a GOP nomination today, the White House would endorse his opponent.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest books are Who is afraid of the Religious Right? ($15.95) and A Jewish conservative looks at pagan America ($9.95). To receive an autographed copy, send a check or money order to: Don Feder, The Boston Herald, 1 Herald Sq., Boston, Mass. 02106. Doing so will help fund JWR, if so noted. He is also available as a guest speaker. To comment on this column please click here.

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© 2002, Creators Syndicate