INSIDE THE BELTWAY: Bush bent over backwards to woo the Religious Right in SC. Can he straighten up by November?

Just one day away from the South Carolina GOP primary, it looks as though the big winner will be Vice President Al Gore. It’s surely no secret that the Democratic front-runner wants most of all to run against a damaged George W. Bush, and it’s beginning to look as though that’s just what he’ll get.

Just one day away from the South Carolina GOP primary, it looks as though the big winner will be Vice President Al Gore. It’s surely no secret that the Democratic front-runner wants most of all to run against a damaged George W. Bush, and it’s beginning to look as though that’s just what he’ll get.

Just one day away from the South Carolina GOP primary, it looks as

though the big winner will be Vice President Al Gore. It’s surely no

secret that the Democratic front-runner wants most of all to run against

a damaged George W. Bush, and it’s beginning to look as though that’s

just what he’ll get.



Bush emerged as a relatively easy winner within a South Carolina

Republican party dominated by the Religious Right, which listens to the

Rev. Pat Robertson, reveres Strom Thurmond, sees nothing bigoted (or

even comical) about Bob Jones University and probably secretly thinks

the Confederate flag should fly over every state capitol.



Bush couldn’t get the state’s conservatives (who are the GOP’s

overwhelming majority) to go for him and his once-professed ’big tent’

inclusionary, compassionate-conservative image of the Republican Party

He had to convince them that he’s just like them - and it seems to have

worked.



As arch-conservative Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, put

it, the compassionate conservative became ’the cut-throat conservative,’

with a campaign that seems ’tired and surly.’ Bush billed himself, in

full flight from John McCain’s victory in New Hampshire, as the

candidate of ’Reform that Works.’



But the only reforms he seemed to espouse were swifter executions and

lower taxes - popular, to be sure, but hardly the inclusionary vision of

Ronald Reagan.



If George W. Bush wants to attract moderate Republicans, Democrats and

independents in November, then his public relations strategy seems to

have been all wrong. The odds seem now to favor him for the Republican

nomination, assuming he can keep the party establishment hostile to and

threatened by Sen. McCain. He must, in addition, keep himself the

darling of the hard-core Right - all the while raising another dollars

50 million or so in the soft money he purports to despise. But that’s

not the image needed to win over a prosperous, increasingly moderate

electorate in November.



Al Gore, after all, is ably staking out the middle ground, where

elections are won. As Democratic candidates from JFK to Bill Clinton

have demonstrated, if the country thinks you’re out there on the fringe,

you lose. And Bob Jones, Pat Robertson and the Confederate flag are

hardly the warm, fuzzy, centrist images that win elections. The South

Carolina Republican primary isn’t New York or California - it isn’t even

Florida, New England, the Northwest or North Carolina.



The Gore/Gephardt/Daschle Democrats smell victory. The last candidate

they want to run against is a truth-telling reformer like John

McCain.



And since television makes every primary national, South Carolina may

turn out to be Bush’s tar baby.



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