Naked City

The Inside Track

George W. Bush shouldn't win the South Carolina primary this Saturday. John McCain has more momentum and broader appeal across party lines. He's also a war hero and a better campaigner, and the voting public is eager to see an assault on the special interests in Washington.

And there are other reasons Bush should lose:

  • First, he's trying to out-McCain McCain himself. Bush now says he's an outsider who'll take on Washington. Bush may -- as he frequently points out -- have an area code that's 512, not 202, but he's hardly an outsider. He's spent the past 18 months corralling the money and endorsements of the GOP establishment and the nation's biggest businesses. Despite that, Bush has tossed his old theme of "compassionate conservatism" in favor of the new "reformer with results." The tactic may have put McCain on the defensive for the moment, but the message underscores Bush's background of privilege and his network of insiders. It also belies the system he has stoked here in Texas. Instead of reforming the way government and business is done, Bush has fostered a system in which big special interests get their way by hiring lobbyists and giving huge campaign donations. Need an example? How about Bush's clean air proposal, under which big polluters could take their time cleaning up their grandfathered plants? The original proposal was written by -- who else? -- a lobbyist for the big utility companies.

  • Second, the Bush campaign has attacked McCain for taking money from lobbyists, and campaign spokesmen are working from a script that refers to their opponent as "Chairman McCain," as though McCain were a leader of the Politburo. The spokesmen also imply that McCain is controlled by Washington special interests. Maybe so, but wasn't that Haley Barbour, superstar lobbyist for Big Tobacco, who was standing behind Bush last March when Bush announced the creation of his exploratory committee? What about the 23 members of Bush's group of Pioneers who are either lobbyists or head interest groups that lobby government? (See the new report by Texans for Public Justice at http://www.tpj.org.)

  • Third, Bush attacks McCain for his stance on campaign finance reform, saying that McCain has changed his stance on whether campaigns should be publicly funded. But there's a problem for Bush, who has raised $67 million: McCain's push for campaign finance reform was rebuffed by the leadership of the GOP, the same leadership that now backs Bush.

    Despite all Bush's wrong turns, the McCain campaign is about to run out of gas. It was fun to see McCain's upset victory in New Hampshire. But his win was more a kamikaze mission than a campaign. He simply doesn't have the resources to beat Bush. The coronation will continue. Bush will win South Carolina 44-42%, and he'll go on to win the Republican nomination and the White House. Why? First, whatever happens, his last name will still be Bush. And second, if there's one rule of thumb, it's: Don't bet against the money.

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    KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

    George W. Bush, John McCain, South Carolina primary, Haley Barbour

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