Jewish World Review Oct. 25, 1999/15 Mar-Cheshvan, 5760
Does Forbes have a chance?
ELIZABETH DOLE'S DEPARTURE from the Republican presidential
race leaves inquiring minds wanting to know: So what's the deal with Steve
Conventional wisdom places Forbes among the triumvirate of major GOP
survivors, along with Sen. John McCain and Gov. George Bush. But it doesn't
take long to puncture that bubble.
A cursory look at the vital statistics reveals the Forbes campaign as a
huge flop. Dole dropped out of the presidential race because she couldn't
raise money. Yet she had hauled in more donations from more contributors
than Forbes, and ranked higher in regional and national polls, despite
making fewer trips to key states.
Forbes talked at the outset of forswearing the use of his own money. No
more. His buckraking record is so pathetic that Forbes-watchers now define a
fund-raiser as a trip to the nearest ATM. Forbes has devoted the last four
years to GOP activism. He has bupkus for his trouble. Gary Bauer has hauled
in more dough.
He was the first man to announce his candidacy over the Internet, but Orrin
Hatch has lapped him in the cybersolicitation race. To date, Forbes has
raised a grand total of $30,000 online. Put another way, his Internet
operation is losing money, big time.
This tells one something. It makes it obvious that Steve Forbes has no more
chance of becoming the next president than Bill Clinton does of becoming the
His champions will contest this view hotly, pointing out that Forbes has a
greater claim to the title of Mr. Idea than any candidate in either party.
They are right. Forbes' theme of "freedom" makes great sense, and most of
his policies bear the stamp of inevitability. Sooner or later, we will
privatize retirement savings. Ditto for health care. History inclines one
toward the belief that sound money and free trade will rocket the nation
toward another century of global economic and intellectual dominance.
Forbes also shows a keen and impressive grasp of foreign policy. He has
boasted meeting more foreign leaders than anyone else running, and that may
be true despite Al Gore's participation in the festivities. He had a
front-row seat to the Cold War and served as chairman of Ronald Reagan's
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, in addition to expert helmsmanship of his
family's eponymous magazine and media empire.
With that background, one would expect him to appreciate the difference
between a powerful idea and an intoxicating delusion. The delusion is that
Forbes has what it takes to sell his ideas and use them to fuel history's
engine. The evidence seems to indicate that he's not a man who grows on
voters. When his campaign purchased ads designed to give New Hampshire
residents a glimpse of the Inner Steve, their man slipped in the polls.
So just as Elizabeth Dole had to take a hard look at her campaign and
wonder what might happen next, so must Forbes. And that is the most
interesting feature of the next phase in Campaign 2000.
He can behave like the political version of the Taxi Driver, whirling back
each day to glare at the mirror and bark, "You talkin' to me?" This would
cause his opponents to tremble in horror but wouldn't do much to make him
appear more cuddly and avuncular.
He can run a professorial campaign and continue peddling policies the GOP
ought to adopt -- in which case, he would remain Nowhere Man in the polls
but have the satisfaction of knowing that he will, over time, have reshaped
Whatever the case, he must decide whether to serve as a constructive or
destructive nuisance. This choice has big consequences because Bush and
McCain suffer weaknesses that deserve probing.
Bush at times behaves more like a frat boy than a potential commander in
chief. One hears supporters muttering about arrogance or even immaturity.
Staten Island Borough President Guy Molinari dumped him for McCain for just
that reason. Bush needs someone to box him about the ears in matters of
demeanor and policy -- not merely to draw him out, but also to force him to
make the transition from giddy front-runner to Man Who Would Be President.
McCain has the handicap of being the man most loved by those who hate
Republicans -- i.e., the press and Democrats. He could benefit from a
rousing debate over such matters as campaign finance reform, abortion and
even defense priorities, so he might have an equal chance of wooing members
of his own party.
These are the areas in which Forbes can make a difference, using his own
cash to make his own points. The one benefit of having a competitor rich
enough to bankroll his folly is that he can use his lucre not merely to
aggrandize himself, but also -- perhaps unwillingly and unwittingly -- to
push others to new levels of
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©1999, Creators Syndicate