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