by Rod D. Martin
June 23, 2000
George W. Bush, presumptive heir to the Presidential throne, is on a tightrope. And the Vice Presidential nomination, done correctly, is the only thing that can get him off.
With a ten point lead in several polls, a nomination process which was almost a coronation, and a winning Texas smile (no matter how many left-wing journalists try to plant the word “smirk” in people’s minds), Bush looks almost invulnerable. He would look absolutely invulnerable if it weren’t for the seemingly-strong economy and memories of 1992. And having pronounced the inviolability of his party’s abortion plank in this year’s platform, the chance of a mass Christian Right exodus to Pat Buchanan seems almost nil.
And there’s the rub. It can only be almost. The Christian Right, without which Bush cannot muster enough votes to win – particularly in a year when they have a very visible (and theoretically viable) someplace else to go – still doesn’t completely trust George Bush. Right or wrong, fair or not, they may never completely trust George Bush. And if he picks the wrong VP, they’ll kill him.
The platform issue presumably resolved, it really comes down to that. The VP choice will show how honest Bush was when he courted Christians against McCain. It will show how likely he is to appoint judges who will overturn Roe v. Wade. And, to those a bit more farsighted, it will show where Bush wants the party to end up eight years from now, when his VP choice is the new presumptive heir.
Fortunately for Bush, the Vice Presidential choice is almost purely political, and everyone knows and accepts that. What’s more, this year, only the Christian Right cares. The old geographical calculus has been rendered mostly moot by television and population growth (see Clinton-Gore ’92); pro-choice Republicans will not bolt the party over a pro-life VP when they haven’t bolted over either Bush (or even Reagan); and with the possible exception of gun-owners, no one else is looking for a symbol. As for independents, Bush will win or lose them on his own.
To shore up his own flanks and free himself to focus on Gore, Bush needs not merely a pro-life VP (essential to avoid the fate his daddy faced at the hands of Ross Perot), but one the Right can really trust. A couple suggestions come to mind.
The most obvious person for this role is Alan Keyes. Without a doubt, Keyes would end any doubt as to where Bush stood on life issues, and the elevation of the former UN Ambassador from his present wilderness status (“we sure like you, but we’re not voting for you ’cause you can’t win”) to that of a real player would excite many on the Right who simply haven’t voted in the past few cycles.
Moreover, Keyes is black (the Democrats have refused to nominate a black candidate thus far) and speaks fluent Spanish (making him an incredible asset in California, Florida and Texas). Keyes’ very existence exudes inclusion, yet inclusion from a non-leftist, politically-incorrect perspective. And picking Keyes would show Bush’s willingness to make bold choices just as surely as it would eliminate the threat of pro-life desertion to Buchanan.
Still, many Bush loyalists fear Keyes would prove a loose cannon. For them, there is a perfect compromise.
His name is Governor Mike Huckabee, Chairman of the Southern Governor’s Association.
Huckabee, the Arkansas Governor and a former state president of Arkansas’ Southern Baptists, has every bit of devotion to the life issue (and the gun issue, and so on) that Keyes has, with an equally powerful but far less fiery oratory. A team player, Huckabee knows how to lead and how to follow equally well. And unlike many on Bush’s alleged short list, Huckabee, devoted husband and father of three, has no skeletons: after a decade of trying to “get” him, even the left-wingArkansas Times has given grudging support of late because, in the words of Bush’s slogan, he is truly “a reformer with results”.
Huckabee would completely shore up Bush’s Right flank, without overshadowing the top of the ticket and without the possibility of scandal. He would be a fresh, yet experienced face that would interest the press (and he’s masterful with the press) in a way that the big-name, high-visibility Jack Kemp could not in 1996. And if something should happen to Bush, Huckabee is probably the most suited for the Presidency of any of the VP candidates.
But the symbolism of Bush-Huckabee would bring something to the ticket that nothing else could match. Huckabee came to power because of the federal Whitewater convictions of his predecessor, and on his watch, Arkansas has seen a dramatic clean-up of Clinton-era corruption as well as its first-ever (in 162 years!) tax cut. A Bush-Huckabee ticket would be a mighty rushing wind, sweeping its Clinton-Gore opposite out of Washington and all its scandals and boondoggles with it.
But whether Bush picks Keyes or Huckabee or whomever, what is certain is that Bush must pick carefully. Many choices might help him, but one false move – be it a Christie Whitman or a Tom Ridge – and Bush is dead. He’ll have no one to blame but himself.