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Jewish World Review Feb. 16, 2000 /10 Adar I, 5760

David Limbaugh

David Limbaugh
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Substance trumps process -- They tell us that conservatism is dead -- that Republican presidential contenders better swim to the political center before they drown in the fringes of an outdated philosophy. Don't believe it, Mr. Bush.

Liberals never conceded the widespread appeal of conservative ideology, as embodied in Ronald Reagan. They attributed his popularity to his charismatic personality.

Lately, though, many conservatives have begun to sing from this same hymnbook. If conservatism still possessed its allure, they say, purist Steve Forbes would have cakewalked to the GOP nomination.

Now that John McCain's campaign has built up steam on the backs of conservatives, the naysayers are claiming vindication. Some Bush supporters are buying into this thinking, saying, for example, that Bush got off track with his call for tax cuts.

Before drawing such dramatic conclusions we should consider the unusual impact Clinton's legacy is having on the political dynamic.

George Bush's phenomenal popularity and unprecedented fundraising success throughout most of 1999 can be attributed to Clinton-revulsion. Republicans, especially, wanted to cleanse the system, and viewed Bush as the most likely vehicle toward that end. Once his so-called aura of invincibility imploded in the New Hampshire primary, his campaign seemed to lose steam nationwide. No longer was he seen as the only one who could deliver the GOP and the nation from the Clinton-Gore vise-grip. And as McCain proved that he could appeal to Independents, he caused many to rethink their allegiance to Bush.

To the extent that bruised and battle-weary Republicans long for a man of character to be president, conservative ideology indeed may have been temporarily placed on the back burner. But as the campaign unfolds, we can observe that it's making its way back to the forefront.

Incredibly, McCain supporters are comparing their candidate to Reagan, saying only he can appeal to Independents and Reagan Democrats and that Bush's move to the right has made him unacceptable to swing voters.

They are mixing apples and oranges. McCain's attraction of Independents and Democrats does not make him a Reaganite. Nor does it prove that Bush is incapable of drawing from the center as he has done so successfully in Texas.

Reagan was able to win converts among moderates partly because of this nation's domestic and international malaise during the Carter years. He didn't compromise his principles. He didn't shift his philosophy to bring swing voters into the fold. Rather he demonstrated to them how they could be part of the prosperity. Bush preaches a similar message of inclusion.

McCain, by contrast, has markedly shifted many of his ideological positions, degenerating from an 86 percent conservative voting record to 68 percent during the last year, almost as if he had planned this centrist coup from the beginning. But his main appeal to Independents is his Perotistic exploitation of their discontentment with the system. As pandemonium during a recent Reform Party meeting showed, most reformers are interested more in process than ideology.

New Hampshire exit polls showed that voters perceived McCain to be a man of greater character and conviction than Bush, leading many analysts to dismiss the role of substantive policies in the equation. What they fail to understand is that Bush's "inevitability" was eroded precisely because of the perception that he was weak on substance. Appearing wishy-washy on ideas in turn damaged his image as a strong leader, because all leaders must be guided by the rudder of ideas.

So far, McCain has been able to achieve sufficient conservative support because of his past voting record and his war record, which appeal to their patriotic sensibilities. Eventually, though, his abandonment of the conservative base will do him in.

Since New Hampshire, Bush has been rehabilitating his image as a leader with convictions. To accelerate this process he should focus on McCain's record, contrasting past with present. In doing so, he will get two bangs for his buck by crippling McCain with the conservative base and undermining his credibility among Independents as a man whose primary appeal is character. Why would a man of such character change so much on the issues so conveniently close to his presidential bid?

Sure, presidential candidates have to have personal appeal to be elected but among most voters, their policies are still paramount.

JWR contributor David Limbaugh is an attorney practicing in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and a political analyst and commentator. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


02/14/00: The campaign finance reform mirage
02/09/00: President McCain: End of the GOP as we know it?
02/07/00: From New Hampshire to South Carolina
02/02/00: SDI must fly
01/31/00: Veep gores Bradley
01/26/00: The issues gap
01/24/00: GOP: Exit, stage left
01/20/00: Nationalizing congressional elections
01/18/00: Do voters really prefer straight talk?
01/12/00: Media's McCain efforts may backfire
01/10/00: Conservative racism myth
01/05/00: Just one more year of Clintonian politics
01/03/00: McMedia?
12/27/99: Al Gore: Bullish on government
12/22/99: Bradley's full-court press
12/20/99: Bush: Rendering unto Caesar
12/15/99: Beltway media bias
12/13/99: White House ambulance chasing
12/08/99: Clinton's labor pains
12/06/99:The lust for power
12/01/99: In defense of liberty
11/29/99: Are Republicans obsolete?
11/24/99: Say you're sorry, Mr. President
11/22/99: Architects of victory
11/17/99: Trump's tax on freedom
11/15/99: GOP caves again
11/10/99: Triangulation and 'The Third Way'
11/08/99: Sticks and stones
11/03/99: Keyes vs. media lapdogs
11/01/99: Signs of the times
10/27/99: The false charge of isolationism
10/25/99: A matter of freedom
10/20/99: Clinton's mini-meltdown
10/18/99: Senate GOP shows statesmanship
10/13/99: Senate must reject nuclear treaty
10/11/99: Bush bites feeding hand
10/06/99: Jesse accidentally opens door for Pat
10/04/99: Clinton and his media enablers
09/29/99: Reagan: Big-tent conservatism
09/27/99: The Clinton/Gore taint?
09/22/99: Have gun (tragedy), will travel
09/20/99: Hillary's blunders and bloopers
09/15/99: GOP must remain conservative
09/13/99:Time for Bush to take charge, please
09/10/99: Bush's education plan: Dubya confounds again
09/07/99: Pat, savior or spoiler?
09/02/99: Character doesn't matter?
08/30/99: Should we judge?
08/25/99: Dubyah's drug question: Not a hill to die on
08/23/99: Should Dubyah start buying soap ... for all that mud?
08/16/99: 'W' stands for 'winner'
08/11/99: The truth about tax cuts
08/09/99: Hillary: Threading the needle
08/04/99: What would you do?
08/02/99: No appeasement for China
07/30/99: Hate Crimes Bill: Cynical Symbolism
07/26/99: Itís the 'moderates', stupid
07/21/99: JFK Jr. and Diana: the pain of privilege
07/19/99: Smith, Bush and the GOP
07/14/99: GOP must be a party of ideas
07/12/99: Gore's gender gap
07/08/99: Clintonís faustian bargain: our justice
07/06/99: The key to Bush's $36 million
06/30/99: Gore: a soda in every fountain
06/28/99: 'Sacred wall' or religious barrier?
06/23/99: GOP must lead in foreign policy
06/21/99: Crumbs of compassion
06/16/99: Compassionate conservatism: face-lift or body transplant?
06/10/99: Victory in Kosovo? Now What?