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In His Political Poker Game, Bush Relied on The Luck of the Draw

November 9, 1988 GMT

WASHINGTON (AP) _ George Bush finally won the biggest poker game in American politics, not so much following the gambler’s shrewd instincts as trusting in the luck of the draw.

In 1980, Bush heard Kenny Rogers’ hit song, ″The Gambler,″ played incessantly on his campaign bus. ″You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ’em,″ went the refrain.

That May, Bush folded his cards and ended his two-year quest for the presidency. But a couple of months later, he got lucky again. He was tapped as Ronald Reagan’s running mate, and spent the next eight years as vice president.

This year, Bush played his hand according to a carefully scripted media campaign. He bested five Republican primary rivals and then trounced Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis to claim the jackpot.

″You get a good bounce in life, and then one event feeds on another,″ Bush once told a reporter.

George Herbert Walker Bush, the resume candidate: Ivy League education at Yale University, decorated Navy combat pilot in World War II, successful Texas oilman, two-term House member from Houston, unsuccessful Senate candidate, ambassador to the United Nations, chairman of the Republican National Committee, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, vice president, president-elect.

Son of a wealthy two-term senator from Connecticut, grandson of the man who donated the Walker Cup to golf, Bush has sought to conceal his Eastern Establishment heritage with humor, occasional annoyance and some good-ole-boy gestures that don’t always ring true.

″There’s a tendency to have you fit into a mold,″ Bush complained this year. ″The mold for me is a kind of Ivy League elitist, and I resist it.″

He resisted by climbing behind the wheel of a tractor-trailer in New Hampshire and announcing that he liked fried pork rinds. ″This is the real me,″ he said. ″This is my home turf.″

But try as he might, Bush had a hard time disguising his preppy origins.

Just before his highly publicized truck ride, Bush loped into a cafe and asked the waitress to bring him ″a splash of tea.″ He drew hoots when he was defeated in an Iowa GOP straw poll last year because his supporters were ″off at the air show, they were off at their daughter’s coming-out party, or they were off teeing off on the golf course.″

Although Bush declared he was ″not going to mess up″ his campaign against Dukakis, and largely succeeded, he stirred controversy when he tapped Sen. Dan Quayle of Indiana as his running mate. But Bush held his cards and rode out the storm over Quayle’s military service and academic performance.

Bush was an intensely loyal vice president to Reagan. He made few waves, and submerged any political or personal differences they might have had.

″He’s the dog that doesn’t bark,″ said Richard Viguerie, the direct-mail fund-raiser for conservative causes. Viguerie said in 1983 there was little evidence of Bush’s impact on White House policy decisions.

Bush insisted he was ″out of the loop″ and played no part in the Iran- Contra affair last year.

Later, he said he had some misgivings about the arms-for-hostages deal with Iran, in which weapons profits were diverted to the Nicaraguan Contra rebels. But Bush refused to say precisely what advice, if any, he gave the president.

The vice president did not escape criticism so easily when he praised Ferdinand Marcos at a dinner in Manila, telling the repressive Philippine president before his ouster that ″we love your commitment to democracy.″

Bush also created a furor when, during a visit to NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, he said Soviet tank mechanics could teach Detroit auto workers a thing or two.

Perhaps the most controversial entry on the lengthy Bush resume is his one- year hitch as CIA director beginning in 1976, at a time when Panama’s military ruler, Gen. Manuel Noriega, was on the spy agency’s payroll as an informant.

Bush has largely avoided questions about any relationship with Noriega, who was subsequently indicted by two federal grand juries in connection with his alleged involvement in drug trafficking.

Bush dismisses suggestions that his CIA tenure would be a liability as president.

″I led something at a very difficult time,″ he says. ″I went in there when it had been demoralized by the attacks of a bunch of little, untutored squirts from Capitol Hill ...

″And I stood up for the CIA then, and I stand up for it now. And defend it. So let the liberals wring their hands and consider it a liability. I consider it a strength.″

Bush campaigned as a Goldwater Republican when he first ran for Congress in 1966. When he sought the presidency in 1980, he shifted to a more moderate position, referring to Reagan’s supply-side proposals as ″voodoo economics.″ He defends those same policies as vice president.

Bush has provoked enduring suspicion among some conservatives, summed up in a 1980 article in the conservative weekly, Human Events.

″Bush was not anything close to being a Goldwater conservative,″ the article said, noting that his ratings by the conservative Americans for Constitutional Action dropped from a ″respectable″ 83 to 58 in three years as a congressman.

″Bush might as well have been in another party,″ the article said.

Bush can joke about his standing among conservatives.

The day in May 1980 when he pulled out of the presidential race, Bush was serving beer, cheese and crackers to campaign reporters in the living room of his Houston home.

Someone teased him about having a copy of William F. Buckley’s conservative magazine, National Review, on top of a pile on his coffee table.

″Well, that doesn’t have to be there any more,″ Bush said, and slipped it to the bottom of the stack.