How Will You Know If Bush Is Losing It?

The Democrats may think they have George Bush on the run. And in a sense, they do. But the President's summer retreat does not a fall rout ensure, especially when you consider that the Democrats have found a way to blow five of the past six Presidential contests. Most political analysts continue to believe that the November election remains Bush's to lose, and right now he seems to be doing everything possible to lose it. How will voters know if Bush is slipping irretrievably into deep doo-doo? It won't be hard, if you consider these only mildly improbable portents of disaster . . .

PEROT SURGES BACK. As Americans return from their Labor Day vacations, they are greeted by a revived, rip-snorting Ross Perot. Finally reconciled to the counsel of his latest batch of political advisers, the Texas billionaire hammers Bush with a huge national advertising blitz. The spots attack the President's economic record and lack of domestic vision, while stressing Perot's can-do approach. Drawing a sharp contrast with the bombast of the Democratic and Republican conventions, Perot-nistas stage a futuristic marvel, beaming their hero's image to a dozen satellite locations. Perot's "un-convention" attracts a huge national television audience. Resigned to a three-way election, the Bush team readies a brutal negative barrage for use against Perot--despite misgivings that the assault could backfire.

THE ECONO-SWOON DEEPENS. Reacting to the news that the July unemployment rate rose 0.2 percentage points, to 8%, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater cracks that "nobody's perfect." Bush, appearing with Treasury Secretary Nicholas F. Brady and Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Michael J. Boskin, calls the news "troubling," but adds testily: "Seven economic indicators are trending up, only three are heading down. Look--if the American people had studied Econ 101, they'd understand that we're in recovery mode, not a recession." Within days, polls show that public confidence in Bush's handling of the economy is heading for single digits.

THE MARKETS SHORT BUSH. Reacting to the Federal Reserve's September decision to cut the discount rate by an additional quarter-point, markets sense panic in Bushdom. Long-term interest rates spike, driving another nail in the recovery's coffin. Perot running-mate L. William Seidman scoffs at the economic necessity of the Fed's move, labeling it "the September surprise." Portfolio managers, hedging against a Bill Clinton victory, put a "buy" on telecommunications and construction stocks, presumed beneficiaries of a major new push to rebuild America's infrastructure. A few maverick money-runners, figuring the ever inquisitive Perot has the edge, begin snapping up shares in Pinkerton Inc. Treasury chief Nick Brady reassures investors: "Markets go up. Markets go down."

PANIC CITY. Longtime friends of President Bush begin a hunger strike outside the office of Secretary of State James A. Baker III. "We're not leaving until Jim agrees to stop all this business with Bosnia and goes over to get a grip on things at the campaign," says Bush intimate Robert A. Mosbacher, reaching into his pocket for the last of his hoard of pork rinds. Baker, whose political instincts rarely permit association with a losing cause, politely declines, saying: "The orphans of Sarajevo need me more than the campaign does. The President's reelection effort is in good hands." Former President Ronald Reagan admits that he has sharply reduced his scheduled appearances for the Bush-Quayle ticket, citing a conflict with a speaking tour of Japan.

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