After Bush Quits, Then What?


At least three newspapers and a couple of national political newspaper columnists plus several representatives of conservative political organizations have called on President Bush to announce he will not seek re-election. No wonder. The president is down to 29 percent in the Gallup Poll's "job approval" survey. No president has ever been re-elected after falling that low.

But if Mr. Bush quits -- and we're not suggesting for a moment that he should -- who would Republicans replace him with? His vice president? That's traditional. But the nervous poll watchers can't favor that. A recent Gallup Poll showed him at only 32 percent on the "qualified to be president" question. A Harris Poll shows Bill Clinton beating Dan Quayle by 75-21 percent.

The next most traditional choice would be the candidate who came in second to the president in the 1992 primaries. That would be Pat Buchanan. But how silly can it get? The unpopular George Bush defeated Mr. Buchanan in every primary contest by a landslide; the Buchanan share of the popular vote was 22 percent.

The next best place to look is at the party's elected official with the largest constituency. That would be Gov. Pete Wilson of California. The latest Field Poll shows him with the lowest level of support of any California governor ever.

How about Congress? Sen. Bob Dole, the minority leader, is respected by many of those wanting to dump the president. But he's not much of a vote getter outside Kansas. Candidate Bush beat him in every state primary but one in 1988. In 1980, Senator Dole did even less well in the presidential primaries. Many of the hTC conservatives most opposed to a Bush candidacy this year are fans of Newt Gingrich, the House whip. Two years ago he nearly lost his seat to a Democrat. Two weeks ago he nearly lost it to a Republican.

The cabinet? A lot of conservatives like Housing Secretary Jack Kemp. But after four years of managing the least important department in the Bush administration, Mr. Kemp has hardly improved his political appeal -- and four years ago he was even less popular with GOP voters than Senator Dole. He did even worse in the primaraies than Pat Robertson. Secretary of State James Baker? Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney? Neither individual has shown a taste or ability for the kind of combat that a presidential candidate must survive, nor does either have a constituency.

Conservatives, if they want to see the Republican Party win in November, need to face it: To paraphrase Winston Churchill, George Bush is the worst possible candidate for conservatives, except for all the others.

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