[sidebar] The Boston Phoenix
February 3 - 10, 2000


And now, the real world

The voters have spoken -- but not for long. After New Hampshire, the establishment bosses kick into action.

by Seth Gitell

ONE HUNDRED AND FOURTEEN town meetings later, Senator John McCain emerged the victor.

The tragedy of the New Hampshire primary is that it's raised our expectations. Anyone who watched all those debates and town meetings, anyone impressed with the "Straight Talk Express," anyone who thought about dropping in for some ham and eggs at a Manchester diner in the hopes of catching a glimpse of one of the candidates making the rounds, could be forgiven for thinking we live in a full-fledged participatory democracy. After all, the results tell the story: the establishment candidates have been wounded. Look at the astonishingly good showing of John McCain after -- at last count -- 114 town meetings. Look at the close race between Democratic candidates Al Gore and Bill Bradley.

Well, look again, folks. We're not in New Hampshire anymore.

This week, the real campaign begins. Watch as the cynicism sets in when the public finally tunes in to the fact that the GOP leadership has no intention of letting McCain upset its plans to anoint Bush as nominee.

It was the governor of Massachusetts, Paul Cellucci, who pointed the way for the next portion of the campaign. Speaking on CNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews Tuesday night, Cellucci didn't seem all that alarmed by McCain's surprisingly strong victory. "All but one of the 30 Republican governors have endorsed George W. Bush," Cellucci said. "That is the firewall of firewalls -- Republican establishment support."

Cellucci astutely pointed out that New Hampshire lacks a Republican governor. New Hampshire sources told me that Bush had pinned his Granite State hopes on Senator Judd Gregg -- a fatal flaw, they said. Compared to governors, senators generally carry few of the establishment trappings that can sway elections. No state workers. No foot soldiers. No juice. Governors, Cellucci said, will make all the difference.

Lovely. What Boss Cellucci is saying is that the Republican governors -- the people who anointed Bush in the first place -- are going to guarantee that the Texan is their party's nominee -- even if the public seems to prefer McCain (see "Republicanism and Its Discontents," News and Features, October 29, 1999). Cellucci talked about what his pal in New York, Governor George Pataki, can do to help Bush. New York's the state where Pataki and the Republican leadership are not even allowing McCain's name to appear on the ballot. (A professor of constitutional law at New York University -- a guy who normally represents the downtrodden in civil-rights actions -- is taking up the case for McCain.) Boss Cellucci, Boss Pataki and the rest will do whatever it takes to get Bush elected. Plus, all their favorite businesses -- energy, money management -- are banding together to keep Bush going. Bush still has his tremendous financial advantage -- one gained by huge bundled donations that his campaign labels by industry.

If you had listened to Bush's concession speech Tuesday night without knowing the election results, you wouldn't have guessed that New Hampshire voters had just humiliated him. Barely acknowledging that anything significant had happened, he quickly launched into his stump speech. He spoke of the need to "reform the public schools . . . to build a modern military." All campaign pabulum. The Bush people are keenly aware that the next portion of the contest works to their advantage. They will take to the air with television ads in New York and California, and they will not leave.

McCain's best chance lies in maximizing what he learned in Vietnam. Much has been made of the strength of character that McCain forged as a prisoner of war -- but, ironically, he seems to be running his campaign based on principles he learned from the North Vietnamese Communists. Using classic tactics of guerrilla warfare, the North Vietnamese -- led by political strategist Ho Chi Minh and General Vo Nguyen Giap -- were able to defeat the much larger and wealthier United States by concentrating their forces where America was weak. They withstood American airpower and wore the US military down. McCain employed similar tactics in New Hampshire, sensing Bush's weakness and using the only asset he has -- himself. Now he hopes to do the same thing in South Carolina.

McCain is hoping that he can demoralize the GOP leadership the way the Vietnamese demoralized America -- to the point that the Republicans finally decide to pull the plug on Bush. And if Bush is to avert this fate, he will need more than opportunistic allies: he will need ideas. At no time to date has Bush moved beyond the campaign clichés his campaign devised at the beginning.

On the Democratic side, a similar but less majestic contest is brewing. Bradley, unlike McCain, is aided by money: he has roughly $3 million more than Gore in cash on hand. But he has failed to capture the public spirit the way McCain has, and the Gore team believes it has turned the corner. Bradley is a near-unknown in California, and he's behind in the polls in New York. And Gore, like Bush, stands to gain from allies in the establishment. The vice-president is now relying on his friends in labor -- particularly the president of the AFL-CIO, John Sweeney -- to get the vote out on his behalf (see "Labor Pains," December 24, 1999). By Wednesday, a letter had already gone out to members of Sweeney's old SEIU local telling them to vote for Gore. Bradley may be able to pick up his share of delegates. His respectable finish in New Hampshire enables him to remain a nuisance to Gore. But the Democratic vice grip will remain in place.

The frustration of campaign 2000 is that the efforts of Bradley and McCain can't be combined. Let's have McCain the insurgent candidate, but we'll give him Bradley's money. Then maybe we'd have an outside candidate with a chance.

GEORGE W. was amiable in his concession speech. But if you didn't know the election results beforehand, you wouldn't have known he was admitting defeat.

As public attention shifts from New Hampshire to the deluge of primaries on March 7, big states such as New York and California are taking center stage. And even before the New Hampshire results were in, the Bradley campaign was preparing its effort in the Empire State. As Bradley waited to debate Gore last week, his campaign feverishly called around to arrange space for a New York rally the day following the New Hampshire primary.

But New York political insiders say that Bradley should have been investing time and energy in New York long before he finally got around to it. They question Bradley's decision to expend so much effort and money in Iowa, where the nature of the state caucuses and Gore's advantage in labor support kept Bradley from ever really having a chance. That decision -- even more than Bradley's inability to counter Gore's attacks on his health-care plan -- robbed the campaign of momentum.

One sign of Bradley's poor planning has been the campaign's failure to consult with former New York City mayor Ed Koch. In many circles, Koch is still regarded as an able and brilliant source on Big Apple politics. And Koch even endorsed Bradley's campaign early on. It's ironic that his support for Bradley has been kept so quiet, given that his support for another candidate in a previous New York primary was so newsworthy. In 1988, when he was still mayor, Koch backed Gore, whose shrill attacks on Democratic challenger Jesse Jackson exemplified his New York campaign -- universally regarded as the low point of the vice-president's political career. One Democratic operative at the time told the Washington Post that Gore "looked like a young puppy being led around by the nose by Ed Koch."

Since that time, however, Koch has moved to the left. He supports Hillary Rodham Clinton's Senate effort and has appeared on the cover of the Village Voice with the Reverend Al Sharpton. In steering clear of Koch, the Bradley camp might just be looking to avoid trouble -- but with New York still in play, one would think Bradley would have called on every resource available.

No sooner did Governor Paul Cellucci finish campaigning on behalf of Bush in New Hampshire -- even appearing live on Hardball with Chris Matthews as scheduled-- than he got out of the Granite State. But not to come back to the Commonwealth; instead, Cellucci headed to Washington. Don't get nervous. Cellucci's not joining a Bush administration yet. Rather, he had a day of Beltway glad-handing scheduled for February 2 -- the day after the New Hampshire primary.

First, Cellucci testified before a Senate Budget Committee hearing on Internet sales taxes (he opposes them). But the event Washington insiders were really buzzing about was Cellucci's speech at the Heritage Foundation. The conservative group was billing the governor's speech as "Cutting Taxes Behind Enemy Lines: The Massachusetts Experience." The press release trumpeted: "Since 1991, Paul Cellucci, first as Lieutenant Governor and now as Governor, has worked to cut taxes in his state 38 times, saving taxpayers nearly $3 billion and fueling the state's economy."

The juxtaposition of Cellucci's work for Bush with the Washington visit is further fueling speculation that the governor will leave office before the end of his term. The Heritage visit, in particular, represents a Cellucci attempt to engage in some conservative networking. But, according to one Washington conservative activist, Cellucci shouldn't get so carried away about what he can bring to conservatives. "The most important thing Cellucci has to give George W. Bush is the vowel at the end of his name," says the conservative source. "He can broaden Bush's appeal to blue-collar Catholic ethnics. That's what [former Massachusetts governor John] Volpe did for Nixon."

Incidentally, an investigation into some of the 38 "tax cuts" shows that few of them were the broad-based populist measures that conservatives love. Many were incremental, business-friendly measures, such as the "mutual-fund tax credit," the "research tax credit," and the so-called Raytheon tax cut, which altered the tax formula in a way that lowered taxes for corporations such as Raytheon and Fidelity (see "Bitter Returns," page 29).

At the least, Cellucci's Washington visit settles questions about why the governor would push so hard to make the state-income-tax rollback such an important part of his agenda. Although the public has little desire for the measure, Cellucci's advocacy of it plays well to the one constituency he really cares about these days -- the national Republican insiders whose ranks he seems to want very much to join.

Stockholm syndrome. That's the only explanation that conservatives friendly to McCain can come up with to explain the candidate's drift to the left in recent days -- particularly on abortion and income redistribution. The syndrome is named for an infamous Swedish hostage-taking incident in which the hostages emerged from captivity identifying with their captors. Apparently, McCain has been spending so much time with reporters on his "Straight Talk Express" that their left-leaning views have gotten to him. McCain likes to joke that reporters are "Trotskyites," but these leftist apparatchiks seem to be having an easier time getting to McCain than the North Vietnamese did after keeping him captive for years.

Seth Gitell can be reached at sgitell[a]phx.com.