Tucker Carlson analysis: The coming Bush panic?
By Tucker Carlson/CNN
December 7, 1999
Web posted at: 12:28 p.m. EST (1728 GMT)
It may be hard to believe, but George W. Bush's famous smirk isn't half as annoying in person. In fact it's sort of appealing, just like the rest of his weird facial expressions, his sarcasm and his frequently garbled pronunciations. When you're with Bush, it's hard not to like these qualities, and the crowds he wades through at political events usually do.
Unfortunately for him, almost nothing about Bush comes over well on television. He seems tense and strained, even snappish. His performance at the Republican primary debate in Arizona last night was particularly uncomfortable. At times, Bush seemed intent on confirming all the worst stereotypes about him -- that he is shallow, unserious, and out of his depth on questions of policy.
Consider the colloquy between Bush and Steve Forbes. During the second half of the debate, Forbes asked Bush a wonky but fairly clever question: How would you, as president, reduce the domestic price of oil? Bush's initial answer -- "more exploration" -- was convincing enough (and, as important, non-threatening to his many supporters in the oil industry). But when Forbes pushed him to explain how, precisely, his administration would respond to rising oil costs, Bush fell apart. His answer: "We'd keep plans in place to say to our drillers, 'Keep on exploring.'"
Read that sentence again. Try to figure out what it means.
Stumped? That's because the sentence doesn't mean anything. Bush didn't answer the question. This is odd behavior. Bush grew up in Midland, an oil town. His father worked in the oil business. He is the two-term governor of an oil-producing state. For years he ran his own oil company. George W. Bush ought to know a lot about oil. And he probably does. But for whatever reason he came off during the debate as a man only faintly familiar with the petroleum industry.
Bush cannot afford too many more episodes like this one. He remains, by a dramatic margin, the front-runner. Yet according to polls, Bush's greatest strength is his perceived strength. In other words, Republican voters like him because they think he can beat the Democrat nominee in November. But as he continues to exhibit weakness in public forums, Bush's campaign could turn out to resemble a volatile tech stock: Once investors sense that a company has been wildly overvalued -- or that Bush isn't as capable a candidate as he was thought to be -- they flee, one by one at first, then en masse. A panic ensues.
At this point, it's an unlikely scenario. Bush still has a great deal of money and an extensive and sophisticated campaign network throughout the country. On the other hand, it's starting to look less unlikely every day. If the Bush market does crash, John McCain is almost certain to be the beneficiary. Which may explain why McCain looked unusually merry at the Arizona debate.
Tucker Carlson is a CNN political analyst and contributes to The Weekly Standard and Talk magazines.