DonÂ't look now, but here in 1999, before the primaries have even begun, George W. Bush is running in the general presidential election. HeÂ's become the embodiment of all those polls that pit him against Â"the eventual Democratic nominee.Â" DubyaÂ's found the political center and heÂ's holding well.
While Al Gore and Bill Bradley duke it out over whoÂ's more loyal to the Democratic party and its traditional platform, Dubya is casting himself as a candidate for all: laying into congressional Republicans for plans to take back a tax credit for working class folks, taking the Grand Old Party to task for its moral grandstanding, for its focus on the bottom line over the problems of not-so-affluent Americans.
For not being, in short, what he terms himself: a compassionate conservative.
Such are the luxuries of being so far out front. Bush feels he doesnÂ't need to guard his right flank. So heÂ's charging left, to the center, where the votes are.
He is aided in this by the new attitude of his partyÂ's right wing. Witness the enthusiastic reception given him at a meeting of the Christian Coalition, where Bush gave a speech notable for how little it bowed to their core agenda.
The CoalitionÂ's pragmatism is born of hunger for the White House after two terms out. Meanwhile, Democrats look again to ideology after ClintonÂ's high pragmatism.
ItÂ's a race to the center -- with Bush leading, Gore and Bradley tussling at the gate.