This is becoming ugly. Paul Simon's rivals for the Democratic nomination say his program is ''neo-voodoo'' or ''voodoo welfare statism.'' That is no way to talk about the fellow who may be at the top of the Simon-Donald Trump ticket in 1988.
In 1980 George Bush, that silver-tongued phrasemaker, coined ''voodoo economics'' to characterize Ronald Reagan's idea of a self-financing tax cut, a cut so instantly and powerfully stimulative there would be a gusher of revenues sufficient to finance rearmament.
Simon's contribution to free-lunchery is the serene argument that he can promise a balanced budget and also a Caesar salad of new spending programs, because the spending will be so instantly and powerfully stimulative that unemployment and interest rates (and therefore the government's interest costs) will fall and revenues will increase and we will be smarter and healthier and hence more productive.
Only spoilsports mind when a politician says stuff like that unless, like Simon, he seems to believe it. What the incorrigibly ingenuous Simon needs is some tarnish-by-association, some acquired impurity to make him seem too swashbuckling to worry about arithmetic. Enter Trump.
Trump is a tall, glamorous, egomaniacal 41-year-old casino-owning zillionaire landlord vulgarian (whose car, plane, yacht, penthouse, house, you name it, is, if he does say so himself, the greatest). He seems interested in the presidency, but only as a stepping stone. (''I think if I ran I'd win.'') Although he is a Republican, some Democrats who may not love him entirely for his soul want him to run a fund-raising dinner for congressional candidates.
That would be merry. Trump takes out newspaper ads to advertise his contempt for the work of today's 537 elected incumbents in Washington, 311 of whom are Democrats. But the Democrats want Trump to become a Democrat, an enlistee in the crusade to reclaim the Me Decade from the self-indulgence of Reaganism. That is an odd crusade to launch from Trump Tower, but never mind.
Trump would be an unnecessary improvisation if only Mario Cuomo, that ol' tease, would come out to play. Or so some Democrats mistakenly think.
In July 1984, at the apogee of postwar cheerfulness in America, while Mary Lou Retton was doing back flips into the morning-in-America sunrise, Cuomo told the Democratic National Convention that one could not be sure whether Reagan would incinerate the world before or after impoverishing the middle class. Journalists, delegates and Minnesota loved it. Since then, many Democrats have been suffering Cuomo Nostalgia, an aching remembrance of someone who has never actually been present as a national figure.
As I was going up the stair
I saw a man who wasn't there.
He wasn't there again today.
I wish, I wish he'd stay away.
Ah, Mario! We hardly knew ye. That, of course, is why he seems, in Democratic imaginings, so shimmering. He -- northern, liberal, ethnic -- is not ideally suited to the task of restoring his party's competitiveness in the South and West. (Other than FDR, how many northern liberal Democrats have won a majority of the popular vote? None.) And if Cuomo now comes crabwise into the race, that would trigger corrosive commentary about his Machiavellian maneuverings. That is not the sort of attention relished by a starchy moralist who sometimes seems to be seeking a Holbein to paint him as Thomas More.
But a northern liberal will be nominated this time, unless Tennessee Sen. Albert Gore, a semisouthern sort of liberal, is. If Gore is, then the Republican nominee, Bush or Dole, who in any case will have to pick from beyond the Beltway, will probably pick a southern running mate, perhaps Tennessee's former governor Lamar Alexander.
Any Democratic nominee other than Gore must pick a southern running mate, which probably will not do the Democrats a lick of good. And the Republican nominee will be free to pick George Deukmejian who, because of his parsimony, deserves to be known as California's first Reaganite governor.
In eight of the 10 elections since World War II, there has been a Californian on the Republican ticket. The Republicans have won six of those eight and narrowly lost the other two (1948, 1960). If you start with California's 47 electoral votes, you have 17 percent -- one-sixth -- of the 270 needed to win. The Democratic Party has never had a Californian on its ticket and has no plausible California candidate for 1988.
Flirting with Trump or remembering Cuomo or yearning for Bradley or Nunn or Robb is alarming behavior in a party that is just 100 days from Super Tuesday and 340 days from the task of carrying California.