Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

President-elect starts move toward a `Bush revolution'. But failure to bolster GOP position in Congress will make it harder to lead

Peace and prosperity - a simple, strong message - carried George Bush triumphantly into the White House in an electoral landslide. Mr. Bush, buoyed by the rising popularity of Ronald Reagan in recent months, will now attempt to transform the Reagan revolution into the Bush revolution.

The President-elect, who promises a ``kinder, gentler'' America, will likely continue Mr. Reagan's hard-nosed foreign and defense policies. But analysts predict that Bush will soften Reagan's staunchly conservative agenda in education, the environment, and in areas of human needs, such as child care.

About these ads

In at least two ways, the election was historic. For the first time since the campaign of Martin Van Buren 152 years ago, a sitting vice-president was elected to the Oval Office. And for the first time since 1948, a party won as many as three consecutive terms in the White House.

The outcome keenly disappointed many Democrats, who thought this should be their year. They watched Michael Dukakis's 17-point lead last summer melt in the heat of the fall campaign.

The loss was especially frustrating to Democrats, because in the waning hours of the race, Mr. Dukakis staged a successful cross-country drive that pulled out victories in several key states, including New York and Oregon.

The effort was too little, too late. But Democrats saw those wins as indicators of what might have been if the governor had fought harder and sooner.

Bush's 426-to-112 electoral-vote victory first began to unfold in the South, then rolled across the country to California. When CBS became the first television network to declare a winner - at 9:17 p.m. Tuesday - most of the states pushing him over the top were below the Mason-Dixon line.

But if the White House race was sweet for Republicans, the battle for Congress left a bitter aftertaste.

Ordinarily, a new president's coattails are long enough to carry in fresh support for his party in the United States House and Senate. This time, Democrats trimmed all the tails off the President-elect's jacket.

About these ads

Or as Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D) of Colorado put it, ``George Bush was wearing a bikini.''

In the House of Representatives, Democrats expanded their margin to nearly 90 seats. They also tightened their grip on the Senate by at least one seat, and possibly two places, depending on the outcome of the photo-finish race in Florida.

Bush, who turned the '88 election into a partisan, liberal-vs.-conservative contest, now must face an energized Democratic leadership on Capitol Hill. Speaker Jim Wright of Texas and his fellow Democrats are determined to set their own policy agenda for the nation.

All this makes Bush's task far tougher than Reagan's in 1981. That year, Reagan entered office on a political tide that also carried in a newly Republican Senate and a House infused with 33 additional Republican members.

Tony Coelho, the Democratic majority whip in the House, quickly issued a warning to Bush:

``If he comes in with his right-wing rhetoric, we are in for a tough four years,'' Mr. Coelho said.

Ironically, one-fourth of those who voted for Bush also supported Democratic House candidates. Most of those ticket-splitting voters were conservatives, and many were Southerners.

Senate minority leader Bob Dole (R) predicts that the first priority of the new White House will be the budget deficit - an issue that voters in both parties are eager to see addressed. Public pressure may force the new President and Congress to find common ground.

On Wednesday, Bush began adjusting to the post-election period. At a press conference, he announced that James A. Baker III, the former Treasury secretary and the chairman of his campaign, would be nominated as the next secretary of state.

It was also disclosed that Craig Fuller, Bush's chief of staff, and Robert Teeter, his campaign pollster, would head the transition team. Earlier, Mr. Fuller said that in addition to appointing some old hands, Bush would infuse his government with many fresh faces.

While Republicans begin pondering their new administration, Democrats will be reviewing their fifth loss out of the last six presidential races.

Analysts say that this year's overwhelming Democratic strength in races for the House, Senate, and governorships proves that this could - and probably should - have been a major Democratic year.

``Dukakis could have won,'' says Claibourne Darden, an Atlanta pollster. ``George Bush is no Ronald Reagan. And he was running as a sitting vice-president, which is a tremendous liability.

``Dukakis could have politicked on a moderate-conservative stand on the issues, and he could have won.''

Mervin Field, a California pollster, says 1988 should be the election that finally awakens the Democrats.

``I see it having a big impact on the party,'' he says. ``If the Democrats haven't got it through their noggins by now what they need to do to win the presidency, they ought to pack their tent and go away.''

At the root of the the Democratic problem is the primary process, which tilts Democrats toward the liberal wing of the party, Mr. Field says. This leaves the party with ``no direction, no cohesion on the presidential level.''

If necessary, Field says, it would be better for Democrats to return to the tradition of the ``smoke-filled room.'' A core of 40 or 50 party leaders, he suggests, would tap a candidate with a better chance of winning than a standard-bearer who might emerge from the primaries.

Field also blames Dukakis for this loss, however. ``He just wasn't really up to it. Whether it was arrogance, stubbornness, or whatever, or a misreading of poll and research data, he stumbled. After Atlanta, he should have gone around the nation saying, `Look me over.' He should have been assertive, not defensive. These were fundamental campaigning mistakes.''

Meanwhile, Republicans could savor a victory over what seemed to be difficult odds only three months ago.

Network exit polls showed how Bush did it. ABC News, which interviewed more than 22,000 voters, found that Bush won by reconstructing the Reagan coalition - though not quite as well.

Bush drew 16 percent of all Democratic voters, for example, in building his victory margin. Reagan got 24 percent in 1984. Bush got 52 percent of the independent vote; Reagan got 61 percent.

Essentially, Bush drew his strength from the same well as Reagan. He did best with voters earning over $30,000 a year, voters 25 to 29 years old, college graduates, men, conservatives, young professionals, first-time voters, born-again Christians, parents, veterans, farmers, whites, self-employed, salaried, Protestants, Southerners, and those who live in the Rocky Mountain states.

Dan Quayle, Bush's running mate, was an important factor, ABC News found. Twelve percent of all voters said it influenced their vote, and three-fourths of those people opted for Dukakis.

The issues that worked best for Bush were the death penalty, the pledge of allegiance, the prison furlough for Willie Horton, and the candidate's own personality. Helping Dukakis most were such issues as the environment, national health care, the Iran-contra affair, education, the choice of Lloyd Bentsen as his running mate, and the vice-presidential debate, where Mr. Bentsen did well.

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.