The Unkindest Critique Of Them All

Bill McBride is probably not going to be the next governor. What he definitely is not is ready for prime time.

Fair political game is what you don’t know or what you’ve done or not done or would or wouldn’t do. Modern campaigns, however, increasingly put a premium on media skills. How you look and how you say whatever it is you say is very important. It’s not fair, but it’s politics, which, if it were fair, wouldn’t be politics.

McBride’s affable personality and one-on-one people skills are a matter of record — as well as manifestly evident. They don’t, however, translate effectively onto the political stage. What you see of an intelligent, successful businessman who’s concerned about his state is less than the sum of the parts.

The debate forum, even for such a savvy attorney as McBride, just hasn’t been kind to him. And that’s unfortunate, because debates always hold out more potential for the challenger, especially one relatively unknown. Debates mean marquee sharing and instant, elevated status vis a vis the incumbent, who is now reduced to co-candidate.

Jeb Bush, however, is telegenic, smooth, rhetorically fast on his feet and wonkish in his command of statistics. Bill McBride isn’t.

Those saucery eyes and frisky digits. That Leesburg drawl and goofy grin. In contrast to the late Lawton Chiles, McBride comes across almost rube-like — not wizened and folksy.

Jeb Bush can look like an arrogant know-it-all — and he is — but it’s not at the expense of looking gubernatorial, a quality that helps when running for governor. McBride can look like a bumpkin in the big city — and he isn’t — but it’s at the expense of looking gubernatorial.

The Bush-McBride results could conceivably be the domino that begins the downfall of a president. As a result, it has been the most scrutinized race in the country — from C-SPAN to the networks to the weekly news magazines to the high priests at the New York Times and the Washington Post.

The unflattering critiques now abound. No criticism of McBride, however, skewered him more than that of Robert L. Pollock, the veteran Wall Street Journal editorial page writer. Pollock, who was in town recently, compared McBride to Adm. James Stockdale, Ross Perot’s 1992 running mate. Stockdale, an aging, American hero and former prisoner of war, looked ill at ease and befuddled in the vice presidential debate with Al Gore and Dan Quayle. Stockdale — of “Who am I? Why am I here?” fame — became the object of ridicule — mitigated only by pity.

McBride, a war hero himself, is no Jim Stockdale. But that one had to hurt.

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