According to the World Almanac, there were 365 days in both 1975 1979. In 1975, Jimmy Carter, then an underdog Democratic presidential candidate, devoted 260 days to campaigning. Last Year, George Bush, then an underdog Republican presidential candidate, spent 328 (yes, three-hundren-twenty-eight) days on the campaign trail. In that time, Bush traveled, according to his campaign staff, which should know, more than 246,000 miles in 42 states, including Iowa.
It was in Iowa, last May -- on one of the 27 days he spent in the State -- that George Bush announced his 143-member steering committee. On this past Tuesday, the Bush campaign, one week after victory in the Iowa caucuses, gratefully received $143,000 in private contributions. All of these numbers reveal something about George Bush and Jimmy Carter, and a lot more about the way we pick our presidents.
Carter and Bush appear to have much in common. Bush is now, as Carter was in '75, an out-of-office, full-time candidate and totally committed to the contest. Both are apparently endowed with more than average shares of stamina, self-confidnece, discipline and determination -- qualitites required in successful retail politicians, and both are singularly accomplished retail politicians.
Retail politics is that brand of politics most of us know from personal experience, where direct, face-to-face meetings between the candidate and the voters actually do occur. In retail politics, a firm dry handshake and the ability to listen attentively (or to seem to) are far more valuable than any definitive position paper on the balance-of-payments. The candidate who remembers birthdays and funerals is not usually forgotten on election days.
Confrontation is abhorrent to the retail candidate. Instead, he diligently seeks the welcome ground of compatibility with all individuals: "I agree we need more movies like 'Breaking Away.'" "You really have to admire the courage of the Rams." "Country music is really underrated by a lot of people."
The essential message, preferably delivered in small groups in a non-political setting, is one of shared values and similar outlook. The retailer approaches voters one-on-one or one-on-five, not through broad appeals to identifiable groups or constituencies. The latter is wholesale politics.
The wholesale candidate -- whether Franklin Roosevelt or Ronald Reagan or Adlai Stevenson -- fully understands that the positions he takes will inevitably win and lose large numbers of votes for his candidacy. Wholesale is not better, or more honest, than retail politics. It's simply very different.
One very big difference is the amount of time required to practice the two. Retailing takes a lot more time than wholesaling -- the kind of time it took Bush to put together and announce a 143-member state committee, eight months before the Iowa caucuses.
In presidential politics, the retail victory means wholesale coverage, virtually overnight. No longer will voters be judging you or your candidacy on the basis of personal exposure. Now, and from now on, voters will be making those judgments in large part on what they read about you in print and perceive of you on the network news.
The Iowa victory has ensured for George Bush the kind of wholesale coverage every candidate covets: cover stories in the news magazines and three network crews in his traveling party.Millions of his fellow citizens have learned in the past week that George Bush was captain of the Yale baseball team, president of the senior class, a combat pilot in World War Ii -- and a politician who has never won a statewide general election. We have learned that during the last 10 years George Bush has probably held more presidential appointments than the state of Massachusetts. At least one entire Oregon forest will be placed in jeopardy if the Bush resume is reproduced in any significant quantities.
But for the successful retailer, as Jimmy Carter learned, there is a price that must be paid for the instant celebrity. Suddenly impromptu remarks before a friendly crowd look very different when carried on a wire-service ticker. An ordinary speech is transformed into a "major address." The slightest variation in your answers or positions is analyzed and examined by the two dozen press people now dogging your every step, recording your every observation.
The political press will, as critics charge, to some extent fight the last war. Bush will face an even tougher scrutiny, simply because a segment of the press now believes they were too easy on the last successful retailer, President Jimmy Carter.
Because he does not represent a threat to his own party establishment (of which he is a senior member) comparable with that which Jimmy Carter posed to may Democrats in 1976, George Bush should be able to avoid most non-candidates, intramural sniping. But the candidates, the Bush opponents, will no longer regard him as Good Old George. Four years ago, Carter received only a light going-over from Rep. Mo Udall. But one doubts that Bush's fellow Texan, John Connally, is rejoicing in his Houston neighbor's good fortune. Bush can expect scrutiny from many quarters in the weeks and months ahead.
If Carter were so disposed, he could offer Bush some solid counsel on what to avoid in the wholesale world he has now entered. Carter could tell Bush of the problems he had in 1976 with that year's quintessential wholesaler from the prototypical wholesale place: California Gov. Jerry Brown. How Brown came on in the late spring to slow down the Carter march with victories in Maryland, Rhode Island, Nevada and California. How Brown, running as the favorite of a New Jersey delegation -- more conspicous for their pinky rings and aluminum suits than for their dedication to Spaceship Earth -- soundly trounced Carter.
Finally, how Carter recognized that Brown's appeal was largely generational -- basically, to voters under age 35. Jimmy Carter, the eminently successful retailer, accepted that challenge. And what better way to reach those youngish folks Carter would need to win in November than through a straightforward, even salty, interview in Playboy?
Welcome to wholesale, George Bush.