A Question of Character
How the media have handled the issue and how the public has reacted
Bush as a Different Kind of Republican
The notion that Bush was a different kind of conservative often came in the form of reporters interpreting Bush's rhetoric. After airing a soundbite from Bush criticizing the both Republicans and Clinton-Gore Administration for partisanship, NBC News correspondent David Gregory added this one morning in late April on the Today Show.
"An unlikely jab at fellow Republicans during such a partisan event. Bush said 'Both parties are caught in a cycle of bitterness, an arms race of anger.' Bush's words are part of an ongoing effort to present himself as a more moderate Republican, less conservative than he was during the bitter primary battle."
The notion of Bush as different also often came from journalists interpreting his movements and motives. Listen to reporter Michael Kranish in the Boston Globe, also in late April. "In the weeks since George W. Bush won the bitter Republican primary race against Senator John McCain, he has been revamping his campaign, mellowing its tone and moving to the middle, gathering many positive reviews and slowly climbing in the polls..."
As noted earlier, such assertions that Bush was different made up 40% of all the Bush themes. Another 16% of the statements about Bush challenged this. In total, then, 56% of all the assertions about Bush related to whether he was a different kind of Republican.
To a degree, however, the subject has faded. It was strongest from February to April when 80% of the assertions appeared. It was especially prevalent in February, when he was campaigning in New Hampshire, and in April, after he had closed the nomination. The idea of Bush's compassion disappeared somewhat in March, when he was battling John McCain in the conservative South.
But for some reason, perhaps because the Bush camp decided its message had been heard, it was worried about keeping hard-line Republican support or perhaps because the Gore camp stopped fighting it, it lost its momentum. In June, only 10% of the assertions related to Bush being different, a month that saw 16% of all the assertions made.
The idea that Bush is a different kind of Republican also stands out because of the nature of evidence it is based on. Bush's key campaign theme was only about half as likely as average (17% versus 31%) to be based on his public record.
Instead, nearly half the evidence came from his campaign rhetoric or policy platform, more than double the average. In short, Bush's main campaign idea is one that is easier for him to manage and control than most of the themes we have seen.
It was also, however, the character theme that was most often challenged of any of the themes, 16% versus less than 5% for any other rebuttal.
That level of rebuttal, or perhaps the softness of the evidence, may have made a difference with the American public. Bush's desire to implant the notion that he is a different kind of Republican has not set in with the American people.
A greater percentage of Americans at this point attribute the characteristic of being different and reaching across party lines to Al Gore than George Bush. That margin is small, 32% to 28%, but it certainly suggests that this theme, so central to Bush's early campaign, was not the basis of his success and will not carry him far against his Democratic rival.
In addition, when voters were asked specifically if George Bush has different views than traditional Republican leaders, only two in ten thought so.