Election Coverage Inside I TOLD You That Bush Would Win


November 08, 1992|By THEO LIPPMAN Jr.

This is embarrassing.

In a Perspective article Dec. 29, 1991, in an editorial page column last Aug. 17, in a speech at Western Maryland College last Sept. 30, I said George Bush would be re-elected. No ifs, ands or buts. Don't call me Mr. Waffle. Last Monday I said it was still conceivable that George Bush would win.

Now, I believed that each time. Of course, by Sept. 30 and Nov. 2, what else could I say? I was stuck with my theories to the effect that there are predictive models based on history which always forecast a winner long before the campaign begins on Labor Day. I've been invoking such models in the Sunpapers for 20 years and six presidential elections.

By mid-campaign 1992, I was in a fix Alex Hawkins, the old Colts player, described in his autobiography. After playing poker one night till 8 a.m., he was met at the door by his wife as he tried to sneak home. She demanded to know where he'd been.

"Actually I got home about 11:30 last night [he said]. I didn't see any lights on, so I figured you had gone to sleep. I decided to lie down in the hammock. I guess I fell asleep and just woke up."

"That's all well and good," she said, "but I took the hammock down last week."

And he said, "Well, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it."

I stuck with my predictive models because they had worked almost every time in modern history (I applied them ex post facto back to 1924 and only missed once), and I subscribed to this thought from "The Tempest:" "What's past is prologue."

Here are the major elements in my models:

1. No one can be elected president the first time he runs for or is sought after for national office. I call that Lippman's Semi-Iron Law. The men elected president in 1924, 1928, 1932, 1936, 1940, 1944, 1948, 1952, 1956, 1960, 1964, 1968, 1972, 1980, 1984 and 1988 met that test.

In 1992 Bill Clinton didn't.

2. No one from a state with only a single-digit electoral vote can be elected president. I call that Lippman's Iron Law. Every president since 1857 was a resident of a double-digit state when elected.

Arkansas is a six-elector state.

3. No one with a career in the politics of a state east of the Mississippi River and north of the Mason-Dixon Line can be elected president. Since the end of World War II, only John F. Kennedy didn't meet the test of geography.

Bill Clinton does.

4. It is also a strong negative for a candidate if he is a Democrat. The party's candidates had lost five of the last six presidential elections before Tuesday.

Bill Clinton is.

5. It is an even stronger negative for a candidate if he is a liberal Democrat, like Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern, Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis. Jimmy Carter and John Kennedy won their nominations by defeating liberals. Lyndon Johnson became a domestic policy liberal in the White House but was never a part of the liberal establishment in the Senate or as vice president.

Bill Clinton is conservative in word and deed, if not thought.

So Bill Clinton was 2 out of 5. So he should have lost. Why didn't he?

I think for the following reasons.

Lippman's Semi-Iron Law has been made obsolete by the ease and speed with which a new candidate on the scene can familiarize the public with his personality, plans and record. In the world of Larry King, CNN, C-SPAN, the major networks' morning talk shows, talk radio and so forth, there has come about a political time warp.

(In connection with this, I totally reject the argument made by many conservative Republicans that the liberal media did George Bush in with slanted journalism. I think it is more likely that the rise of talk radio, especially the prominence of the most popular such commentator in history, Rush Limbaugh, helped do the president in. Americans finally saw right-wing Republicanism personified for what it is -- in a 400-pound, loudmouthed comedian with a mean streak).

Also, Governor Clinton's moderate conservatism is a stronger positive than his being a Democrat and his being from a small state are negatives combined.

That is especially true in terms of race and law and order. Republicans have beat Democrats into the ground on those two issues in every presidential election since 1964. Lyndon Johnson was the last Democrat to get more white votes than his Republican opponent. (Governor Clinton appears to done that.) Why? Because Republicans have exploited charges that Democrats favor special advantages and treatment for blacks and that they favor leniency for criminals. It worked in every year but 1976. Republicans brought the two issues together in a demagogic but brilliantly effective way in 1988, with the Willie Horton ads.

Bill Clinton did two things to do away with those liabilities. He publicly rebuked Jesse Jackson. And he authorized executions of criminals in Arkansas during his campaign.

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