Bush Balks

In which our man Durst examines the underpinnings of Dubya's sudden and extreme loss of favor among primary voters.

| Tue Feb. 8, 2000 4:00 AM EST

George W. Bush might have himself the same problem a Republican named Lincoln had on his hands 140 years ago: a breakaway southern state. Seems a new poll in South Carolina shows John McCain in the lead by four points. Bush's firewall has become a papier-mache screen overnight. Flash paper city. This turn of events has precipitated a damage-control operation one would normally associate with a natural disaster, although I'm not sure even FEMA could help at this point.

In response, George II made such a hard-right pivot, staffers in the back seat of his campaign bus should be encouraged to call one of those 1-800-WHIPLASH lawyers you see on late-night television. The dauphin held a rally at Bob Jones University in front of 7,000 students and faculty where interracial dating is strictly prohibited, and attendance at the speech was mandatory. Then number-one son was photographed on stage receiving Dan Quayle's endorsement. Which has got to be worth three, maybe four hundred votes nationwide. What a sight it was: Bush and Quayle together again. That's the generous evaluation. The rather ungenerous assessment is Dumb & Dumber. But you won't hear that from me.

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The Texas governor is supposedly calling major donors and party stalwarts to let them know although the ship may have a tiny hole, it's still full-speed ahead. Sounds to me like the same plight the S.S. Minnow experienced. And that was a mere three-hour tour. We're talking another two months of rough seas here. What I want to know is, if this campaign gets stranded on a desert isle, does Bush become the skipper and Quayle the little buddy? Or versa visa? Dad's obviously Mr. Howell, but which will loom as the bigger crisis: no Ginger, or John Sununu as the Professor?

To say George W.'s momentum has slowed is to imply being repeatedly run over by a 40-ton steamroller might put a crimp in one's all-around gymnastics program. You got Steve Forbes nibbling at his right flank, McCain chomping away his left flank and the Boy that would be King is starting to look a mite like flank steak run through a grinder and seasoned with raw egg, anchovies, and capers. Candidate tartare. "Fresh-ground pepper, sir?" "Get away from me, Neil."

The GOP big boys are encouraging Dubya to sharpen his message. But of course that advice is moot, predicated on one's first having a message to sharpen. The committed party stalwarts are blindly and bravely thrusting their chins forward into that same prototype meat-grinder by insisting that, similar to Bradley's assault on Gore, these tough times will only serve to make Bush a more potent candidate. Jeez guys, under that theory, one would be forced to say Gary Bauer is the most qualified aspirant as he's gone through the toughest of times, including tumbling precipitously off a four-inch stage. You know who really scares the Democrats? Hatch.

There's some talk around the speed bag that Georgie might have what you call a glass jaw. My theory is his training manual came straight off dad's Skull & Bones shelf, without benefit of Lee Atwater's unique pugilistic translation.

Meanwhile, investigators are sifting through the charred rubble of the New Hampshire campaign for the cockpit voice recorder to see what lessons can be learned. Inside sources reportedly ascribe the vertical failure to a malfunction of the stabilizers. And the navigational unit. And the fuselage. And the rudder. And two partially chewed up wings. The FAA is perplexed.

Will Durst is host of "The Citizen Durst Report" on PBS and flying Alaska Airlines because, for some inexplicable reason, the seats are plentiful and cheap. He is covering election 2000 for the MoJo Wire.

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