SHORT OF A WRITE-IN CAMPAIGN by the Blair Witch—suggested slogan: “Vote for Me or I’ll Make You Stand in the Corner”—the governor of Texas can’t be stopped in his bid for the White House. Or can he? Fourteen months out, the conventional wisdom has it that George W. and Laura Bush can start measuring for new drapes and lugging remaindered copies of It Takes A Village to Half Price Books. The reasons should by now be clear to anyone with eyes, ears, and C-SPAN: The Republicans are hungrier to win the presidency than the Democrats are to retain it, Al Gore has all of Bill Clinton’s baggage but few of his political skills, and so on. But for the sake of argument, let’s pretend that Bush isn’t inevitable. What might trip him up?
The scenario: The Reform Party, newly energized with pro-wrestler-turned-Minnesota-governor Jesse “the Body” Ventura in the pile driver’s seat, will nominate a fresh face who can play spoiler, stealing some of the anti-Gore vote from Bush in a few key states, tilting the race to the veep.
Sounds good: Assuming the Reformers don’t pick someone wacky like Donald Trump—yes, that’s been discussed—a few points in the polls are not unlikely. In mid-July Perot was at twelve points in a three-way race with Bush and Gore, and Ventura was at seventeen, though he insists he doesn’t plan to run. Then again, he won’t foreclose on the possibility. “What if Ventura is the nominee?” he booms. “I think Ventura would win.”
Okay, but: Except for Ventura, the Reformers don’t have a remotely credible candidate, and even he fails the oath-of-office test. Are we really comfortable with him raising his right hand unless he’s making a fist?
The scenario: Frustrated by Bush’s seeming coronation, his squishy compassion, and his refusal to litmus-test running mates, the far right supports an independent or simply sits out till 2004.
Sounds good: New Hampshire senator Bob Smith has already bolted the party, and pundit Pat Buchanan may follow. Meanwhile, activist Gary Bauer says Bush is indistinguishable from Gore, and think-tanker Edward Crane called him “Clintonesque” in the New York Times.
Okay, but: This is 1968 all over again—a moderate Republican nominee leading a party so desperate to win that even the fringe elements will be willing to hold their noses and vote for him.
Dollar Bill vs. the $37 Million Man
The scenario: The Democrats, realizing that their presumed nominee excites no one (as Barbara Bush might say, “rhymes with bore”), throw the ball downcourt to former NBA star and New Jersey senator Bill Bradley, who wraps himself in campaign-finance reform and runs an outsider’s race against an establishment-bankrolled insider.
Sounds good: Bradley has none of the Clinton taint, and he’d mess up Bush’s general-election-against-Gore strategy. If he runs, toss-up California goes Democratic. The macho vote, all Bush’s versus Gore, is a jump ball if it’s Bradley; the sight of Michael Jordan, a Bradley backer, stumping against W. would be quite something indeed. And the media, heretofore swooning over the Bush juggernaut, would return to more familiar laptop-liberal territory and take up the cause of Dollar Bill.
Okay, but: Bradley polls poorly against Bush. Then again, never discount a hoop dream; who knew the Spurs would win the NBA title?