Like Father, Like Son

Commentary by Pete du Pont

Bush the father, Bush the son; both will have been president of the United States. I know it is foolishly early to predict this, but remember where you read it first.

The reasons are simple. Gov. George W. Bush will be the governor of Texas in 2000, and his brother Jeb will be the governor of Florida. Together those two states have 221 of the 996 delegates needed to nominate George W. at the Republican convention. The rest can be accessed by former President Bush's Rolodex, surely the finest political Rolodex in America. Since Vice President Al Gore and the Democrats will be sucked down with the Clinton ship, end of story.

The chips will fall

Of course, it is a little more complicated than that. One additional factor is that Republicans hate to fight. They are a well-mannered lot who learned in kindergarten to take turns and be nice. Democrats love to fight and so do conservatives, but Republicans want everything to be calm and gentlemanly. So they will want to agree on a nominee well before those messy primaries kick in.

Then there is the question of money. The bank rollers of the Republican Party are by and large moderate go-along-to-get-along guys; they do not want a fight, either.

Finally, the GOP philosophy is much more "pick the man who can win and he will do right," than the opposite: "pick the candidate who is right, and help him win." When I recently asked a prominent Republican why he supports Colin Powell, who is much more Democrat than Republican in his views, he replied "because he can win!" Ronald Reagan is the only contemporary Republican nominee to come from that latter school of political strategy.

Then there are the opposing candidates. Pat Buchanan's angry message of protectionism and anti-establishment rhetoric has doomed him twice before, and will quickly do so again. Steve Forbes has by far the best message on the merits -- lower taxes, smaller government and a better retirement income -- and he will appeal to the conservative soul of the party. He will do well in the primaries, but George W. will sound almost as conservative, so Forbes will draft the platform and end up in the Cabinet. Newt Gingrich? If he runs, he will be head and shoulders the best communicator of the bunch; he has a vision for the future and can present it in clear English. But his negatives are high, and bets are he will not join the fray. Lamar Alexander is a moderate man with a moderate message. Sen. John Ashcroft (R-MO) is a moral man with a conservative social and economic program. He will go further later.

None of which is to minimize Bush's skills. He has played his first term as governor very well, making lots of friends and few enemies. His has not been a cutting-edge administration, but the governor gets high marks for his fiscal conservatism (like father, unlike son). Even the hard-to-please Cato Institute praises his two percent per year budget growth and property tax cuts, a much better fiscal record than most Republican governors.

His father's son?

What can go wrong? Leaving aside the possibility of a monumental blunder -- which all candidates are susceptible to after one too many nights in an Iowa EconoLodge -- three possibilities come to mind.

One is playing it too cute and too safe: avoid all the issues, controversy, and coast to the nomination, much as Thomas Dewey was going to coast to victory over Harry Truman in 1948. A second is the "master of the universe strategy" -- pick Colin Powell as a running mate to split the black vote, or a Christie Whitman quasi-feminist to appease liberal women. Neither will work, and both will alienate core supporters. The third is listening to his dad's old advisors. Half a dozen of them gave President Bush some really bad advice during his administration, which he unfortunately followed. So Bush the son should put their numbers on call blocker, and get on with articulating a conservative program with a toughness the blue-collar Reagan Democrats will find appealing.

There you have it: Texas, Florida, an overwhelming Rolodex, a good record and a sound guy. Two years out, the race seems George W's to lose.

The next question is, when it comes to governing, will it be "like father like son?"

The National Center for Policy Analysis is a public policy research institute founded in 1983 and internationally known for its studies on public policy issues.