Abe Rosenthal, former executive editor of The New York Times, now its resident curmudgeon,

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Abe Rosenthal, former executive editor of The New York Times, now its resident curmudgeon, writes the following (7/31/92): ---------------------------------------------------------------- SHOULD BUSH RUN? Can he win? Should he run? Suddenly those questions about George Bush are part of the conversation of American politicians and journalists. I think the answer to the first question is yes, and to the second, no. That is a paradox, but based on the political and personal realities that envelop Mr. Bush and the 1992 campaign. For months Americans asked those questions about two other contenders. It took Bill Clinton time but he answered them -- by understanding that the change the country sought was a President who would be for a bouquet of goals and people, not always wearing the same droopy ideological flower in his buttonhole. Ross Perot answered by showing he was a master of the craven art of dynamite-stick fishing. He threw in the explosives, stunned millions of suckers, scooped them up, then dumped the basket and left them gasping on the beach while he went off for another sport, did our brave adventurer, leaving the fish with the bill. And all that print and TV smarm about the legacy of the "Perot" economic plan -- he never created or adopted it. It should be called the John White Plan, after the employee who crafted it, or the Perot Plan Never. But yes, Mr. Bush can win. He clings to the memory of Harry Truman as if he himself were a good old Missouri Democrat, not a good old Connecticut Republican. Saddam Hussein can elect Mr. Bush by throwing a few Scuds at the Saudis or Israelis. Or Mr. Bush can pull himself together, act and talk like a live President, or even a live human being, as when he told hecklers to shut up -- the hight point of his campaign so far -- or start accepting blame instead of keeping on pouring it out into dusty whine glasses, stop just getting mad at Saddam and get even by backing the Iraqi resistance movement, or let Barbara Bush say she is in favor of choice, since it is hard to imagine she is not, or come up with an economic plan that is either. Then he can adapt Hillary Clinton's fine line -- this is who I am, if you like me, vote for me, if not, not. I think there is something in most Americans except the cynical emotion-dead who wish he would do all or most of the above, or *something* to make a fight of it. One President destroyed himself because of his own personality; to see another do the same brings no pleasure. The straight-out vote-counting reasons for considering withdrawal stare at him. Few Democrats believe he will suddenly become a doer, thinker, orator and fighter. As they become committed to Governor Clinton, it will become harder for Mr. Bush to convince them. No Democrats, no Bush re-election. Meanwhile more Republicans see him as a loser, and say so. The The longer their fear lives, the more likely it fulfills itself. William Bennett, the conservative Republican who served Mr. Bush as drug czar, asked two devastating questions about the President on the David Brinkley program. Does Mr. Bush really want the job? If so, what does he plan to do with it? The strongest reason for Mr. Bush not to run, and the hardest to face, is that he has not made the most of his chances; that is the least Presidents get elected to do. Abroad, he fought a war, threw away victory, guaranteeing more war -- already being fought by the Iraqi resistance. He misjudged what was going on in the Soviet Union, the Baltics, the Mideast, China, Haiti. At home, his first term has sunk the country in depression -- depression of the soul -- not sure which will come first, the factory closing slip or the next urban riot. That's enough. Perhaps Mr. Bush will find it in himself to recover the admiration of his countrymen. He can do that by saying he had his opportunity, did what he could, but that all told, it would be better to give a fresh Republican team the chance to lead. Any new Republican ticket would have one tough race, with so little time left. But it would be interesting to find out how many Republican delegates, guaranteed anonymity, think Bush-Quayle has a better chance than a ticket of Jack Kemp and, say, Elizabeth Dole or Jeane Kirkpatrick. A hard thing for Mr. Bush to do -- but in truth others have faced their mirrors and decided to walk away without being fired and with respect from their peers, and themselves.

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