One Born Every Minute

The Candidates--1980 By Aram Bakshian, Jr. Arlington House, $12.95

ARAM BAKSHIAN, JR. is proud of the fact that the guy who tends bar at the National Press Club--the capitol's branch of Alcoholics Anonymous--knows what he drinks. For Bakshian, it's been a long trip up from copy boy at U.S. News and World Report to "White House insider." He lumbers across the lounge--grey herringbone, white shirt with maroon navy pencil-thin tie, grey flannels--a figure that any Young Republican could look up to. As he talks--fast, clipped tones that emerge from somewhere under his Groucho Marx mustache--Bakshian switches back and forth from cigar to definitive statement to bottle of Bock's Beer.

Bakshian spent two months writing. Late at night, a glass of port in one hand and his brain in the other, Bakshian looked out over the Potomac and composed his first book. The publisher asked him, he explains, to go out on a limb, to write a book handicapping the chances of the candidates in search of the Republican and Democratic presidential nominations. Bakshian sees his book as something that may educate the electorate and "help us explain how these people get into office." He stops to preach. "If people are that goddamned concerned, then they've got to do a bit more than occasionally sit through the evening news." Like buy his book.

This is an uncomplicated book written by an uncomplicated man. Bakshian has taken the classic election metaphor--the candidates as horses, the journalist as oddsmaker--and stretched it, beaten it and pummelled it into submission. Throw aside the introduction and the conclusion--which is very easy to do--and you're left with a $12.95 list of the candidates and their chances for making it through the conventions alive.

Bakshian's methods are simple; he labels his scoring system the "Seven Deadly Whims." He moves from candidate to candidate, judging each on the basis of (1) leadership, (2) communication, (3) organization, (4) war chest, (5) age/health, (6) marriage/family and (7) wildcard. A candidate's positions on the issues are not included, he says, because issues fit into the other categories. At the end of the book, the horses are given scores, the scores are tallied up to find the winners.

Bakshian wrote the balance of the book in October and November and, for the most part, his predictions have held true. In his scatter-shot prose, punctuated by certain frequent references to what a brilliant guy he is, Bakshian tell us that Teddy Kennedy (who rates a total of 64 out of 100 points) will edge out Jimmy Carter (61) for the Democratic nomination. What has gone wrong? A combination of Kennedy's personal vulnerabilities and the situation in Iran has thrown the election into the president's corner, Bakshian says, but he's quick to add that "Carter has really been a disaster."


On the Republican side, Bakshian is more at home, and by November had already written off Howard Baker--low scores on organization, John Connally--issues of "trust"--and John Anderson. Writing off George Bush as a possibility but not a probability, Bakshian offers the following scenario:

If Reagan can win in New Hampshire (and running against a scattered field of opponents he can do so easily just by holding onto a large chunk of the 48 per cent of Republican votes he received in the 1976 primary there); if he can make a better than expected minority showing against George Bush in Massachusetts; if he can bury Connally by strong wins in South Carolina and Florida, and then carry Illinois--then he just might be able to coast all the way to the convention after March 18th.

Sound familiar? Bakshian is proud of his prediction and says, at this point in the race, "Reagan has to fall on his face or he's got it."

ALL OF THIS, of course, could have been said very easily in a short, snappy article for Politics Today. Instead, Bakshian spends 250 pages telling us about the race, the candidates, and, most of all, himself. The problem, in short, is the book demands the "armed neutrality" that Bakshian said he started with, and Aram Bakshian is a screaming Republican. His resume reads like What's What in GOP boners in the last ten years. From 1971 to 1972, special assistant to then chairman of the Republican National Committee, Bob Dole. In June of 1972, he joined the White House, four days before the Watergate break-in ("if I'd known then, maybe I wouldn't have gone") and stayed on to write speeches for Nixon and Connally's I'm-a-Republican address.

Recently, Bakshian took some time off from freelancing to help Dick Nixon edit his memoirs. On the issues, he admits, he stands closest to George Bush. And Bakshian says that Jerry Ford ("on all the big things, he made the right decisions"), Alexander Haig or Scoop Jackson (save for the fact that "he has all the personality of a three-day-old Fresca") would function well in the White House.

Bakshian's political outlook doesn't seep into the book; it overwhelms it. Any Democrat is either a fool or a lecher. While the author spends 10 single-spaced pages spelling out the intricacies of Chappaquiddick (and quoting George F. Will), he disregards Bush's role in the CIA, Connally's adventure in the dairy business and Reagan's innumerable bloopers. Instead of a balanced view of Big John, we are treated to a verbatim transcript of his plan for peace in the Middle East. To Bakshian, anything to the left of Eisenhower is deserving of slander. "So John Anderson's for abortion," he quotes someone identified only as "a crusty New Hampshire Republican"--"Too bad his parents didn't feel the same way."

At times, The Candidates--1980 strays into the self-indulgent and the absurd. No self-respecting author would quote articles from The American Spectator at length and then reveal--several times, in fact--that he wrote them. But then again, the man who wrote this book boasts that he has been published in international editions of Reader's Digest. There are numerous factual errors; on a list of obstacles that stand between the candidates and the conventions, Bakshian overlooks the New York primary. Where Bakshian is at his best--conversational, witty, on target--he is quoting liberally from people who really know their stuff and adding in analysis that, given two months and a large contract, anybody could have thought of.

This election year is already depressing enough without books like this. But we can all be thankful at least for one thing: Aram Bakshian, Jr. isn't running for president.

Late at night, a glass of port in one hand and his brain in the other, Bakshian looked out over the Potomac and composed his first book.

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