By withdrawing from the race Thursday, Steve Forbes may at last answer the question, "Which Republican candidate does Forbes hate the most?"
Forbes' contempt for George W. Bush was widely guessed to be his probable motive for staying in the race after his New Hampshire debacle. What better way to stick it to Bush than to play the spoiler? Given that Bush is currently moving right to counter McCain--McCain's overall record is actually more conservative than Bush's, but he's seen as the more moderate candidate--Forbes could have proved a real nuisance to Bush had he not bowed out.
Does Forbes really hate Bush? It seems likely he does. Forbes repeatedly trashed Bush on the campaign trail--saying, for instance, that Bush was doing a lousy job as Texas governor. Some of this was probably calculated and insincere. But don't forget the nasty way Forbes mimicked Bush when confronted about a column he once wrote saying the Social Security retirement age should be raised:
When I was young and irresponsible, I was young and irresponsible and, unlike some, I grew away from that initial position and clearly some others are still stuck in it. At least you knew what I was doing in my youth. I was writing magazine columns. ... Others haven't been so forthcoming about what they were doing.
This crack caused so much offense that Forbes had to apologize. If it was calculated, it was pretty inept. Chatterbox thinks it was wasn't calculated. Nevertheless, Forbes is bowing out. Why?
Here's a guess: Because Forbes hates John McCain even more than he hates Bush. Slate's Jacob Weisberg argues persuasively that the "his colleagues hate McCain" story is overblown. But there can be little doubt Forbes hates McCain. It would be hard for him not to hate McCain simply for usurping his position as the alternative to the anointed Bush. Consider this arresting snippet from a Jan. 16 Melinda Henneberger story in the New York Times:
After Mr. Forbes sat next to Mr. McCainwhile they were getting their TV makeup put on before a joint appearance, he complained that he never, ever wanted to be put in that position again, and apparently hurt Mr. McCain'sfeelings a little.
Because Forbes' withdrawal will also be good news for Alan Keyes, one must ask whether Forbes is motivated by affection for Keyes. Here Chatterbox is out of his depth. The Forbes campaign's line on Keyes has been that he's a great social conservative but that only Forbes could deliver anti-abortion votes and supply-side votes. But this ignored the fact that Keyes' anti-tax stance was even more radical than Forbes'. (Keyes wants to junk the income tax altogether and replace it with a national sales tax.) It's possible that Forbes admires Keyes for this, but more likely that he resents him for it. Both men are very bristly, which makes it likely that they dislike one another, though with bristly people you never know; there could be some of that "I like you because you're an even bigger son-of-a-bitch than me" thing going on. Chatterbox suspects that Forbes didn't much appreciate Keyes' "Massa Bush" talk, even if it was directed against a mutual enemy. Of course, if Forbes endorses Keyes, that will tell us something.