Al Gore's moment of a lifetime is fast approaching, and he can see it slipping through his fingers. What do you suppose he's planning to do about it?
It's hard to deny that for now at least -- and time is growing short -- things are going Bush's way. Bush has ample reason to be optimistic.
Bush has recaptured the momentum. He has eliminated Gore's substantial post-convention surge and leads in almost every poll and in some by a substantial margin. He is even within striking distance of winning California.
The "internals" (issues), which were said to favor Gore, help Bush. Columnist David Broder, himself no enemy of big-government, cites a Washington Post-ABC News poll showing that registered voters prefer a smaller government. Even worse for Gore: the people identify Bush as a proponent of smaller government (60 percent) and Gore of big government (70 percent).
"Voter intensity" surveys show that Bush has a major advantage over Gore. The bipartisan Battleground poll finds Bush supporters more likely to vote than Gore supporters. This could be monumentally significant in a close race, which many anticipate this one will be.
Certain constituencies Gore takes for granted may be abandoning him. Union members in such bellwether states as Michigan reportedly have lost enthusiasm for Gore's candidacy. Because Gore and Bush are both free traders, many of these Reagan Democrats are looking to other issues, such as taxes, abortion and guns. Many of them prefer Bush's tax plan, are pro-life and pro-Second Amendment. Not a good sign for Gore.
Certain important current events militate against Gore, including the unstable stock market, the oil crisis and the conflict in the Middle East (surely many Jewish voters are disillusioned with the administration's betrayal of Israel by refusing to veto the U.N. vote condemning her).
Contrary to conventional wisdom, most voters must be generally conservative after all, and I'm not just referring to Broder's point that voters favor smaller government. Don't forget that Bush dispatched McCain not with dirty campaigning (more conventional misinformation), but by trumpeting conservative themes and contrasting McCain's liberal ones. An even more telltale sign is Gore's efforts to placate the right. He is tailoring his message to appeal to conservatives; Bush is not altering his to attract liberals. Remember Gore wooing hunters during the last debate? Did you hear him misrepresenting that his education plan, like Bush's, involved local control and accountability?
Ralph Nader, while occupying the far left, is acting as a goalie to keep Gore from moving too far to the center. Clinton didn't face this problem as he tried to position himself as a centrist New Democrat; in the meantime this Bush has no Ross Perot sucking votes away from him.
While heralded as a gifted debater, Al Gore has quagmired himself in unintelligible details, while Bush has stuck to his major themes.
The character and credibility issues surrounding Gore are real and lasting. Bush is seen as honest because he is.
There is major dissension among Gore's top advisers over strategy. They are scratching their heads over why Gore is being forced to defend his credibility and centrist credentials. (If they don't know by now, I'm glad they're working for Gore. Hint: It's not a matter of image. Their guy is actually dishonest and liberal.)
There are no reports of disharmony in the Bush camp because Bush himself is in charge, and he happens to know who he is.
Which brings me to the main point. Gore's central and I believe insurmountable problem is that he suffers from a genuine identity crisis: after all these years, he doesn't know who he is. For political expediency, he has flip-flopped on many vitally important issues, like abortion and gun control, and it is now being reported that in 1981 he denounced homosexuality as abnormal and morally wrong. He continues to treat us to endless personality transformations.
When Bush was down a month ago, he reacted without panic and with the steady calm of a man of presidential caliber. As Gore sees his presidential chances evaporating, look for him to go into panic mode and try some Hail Marys in the debate and afterward. When he pulls out the stops, expect more race baiting, class warfare and dramatic distortions of Bush's record.
Between now and Election Day, I predict a bumpy, but ultimately gratifying ride.