One of the things that surprises me so far in the race for the White House is that none of the Republicans is positioning himself clearly as the anti-Bush. I think there is a yearning for such a candidate among the Republican electorate.
Here's some evidence. For some time, Strategic Vision, a polling company, has been asking Republican voters if they see George W. Bush as a conservative in the mode of Ronald Reagan. Not only did very few Republicans view Bush that way when the question was first asked last fall, but the number has fallen to the level of rounding error.
Consider Florida. In October 2006, 25 percent of Republicans saw the president as another Reagan. But in the latest poll, released on June 21, only 7 percent of them answered in the affirmative. The same story is told in every state for which we have data. The following list compares the percentage of Republicans saying Bush is another Reagan the first time the question was asked with the most recent figure: Georgia, 24-7; Iowa, 11-6; Michigan, 17-9; New Jersey, 13-8; Pennsylvania, 18-7; Washington, 14-11; Wisconsin, 27-7.
Thus we see that only about 7 percent of Republicans nationally view Bush as having Reagan-like qualities. Seventy percent to 80 percent say he is not at all like Reagan. Yet most Republicans say they would like to see a candidate who is another Reagan.
Strategic Vision has also asked about that. In a poll taken in Iowa last week, 65 percent of Republicans said it was very important or somewhat important for the Republican nominee to be a conservative in the Reagan mode. A poll of Georgia Republicans released the same day showed 75 percent of Republicans saying that the party's nominee should be Reagan-like.
When you contrast the percentage of Republicans favoring a Reaganite nominee with the extremely low percentage who see Bush as being in the Reagan mode, it would seem that there is a great opportunity for one of the Republican candidates to articulate an anti-Bush, pro-Reagan message. Yet, oddly, no one is doing so. On the contrary, all the major candidates seem to be trying to avoid a confrontation with Bush and mostly echo him on key issues such as Iraq.
This approach has been most damaging to Arizona Sen. John McCain. Once widely admired for his independence, he seems to have decided about a year ago to run as Bush's lapdog. Toward that end, McCain has not only been the strongest supporter of the war among the Republican candidates, but he even backed Bush on his extraordinarily unpopular immigration reform plan. This strategy has basically destroyed McCain's campaign.
Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.
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