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Bush vs. Kerry: It will be more interesting than you think
The Weekly Standard ^ | 02/09/04 | Jeffrey Bell & Frank Cannon

Posted on 01/30/2004 9:06:40 PM PST by Pokey78

THE COME-FROM-BEHIND triumph of John Kerry in Iowa and New Hampshire does more than make the Massachusetts senator a prohibitive favorite for the Democratic presidential nomination. It marks the defeat of Howard Dean's antiwar, left-populist rebellion by the quintessential candidate of the Democratic establishment.

For Democrats, this is likely to mean a sophisticated, predictable, low-risk national campaign, somewhat analogous to Bob Dole's 1996 challenge of President Clinton. A Kerry nomination is precisely the kind of result aimed for by Democratic chairman Terry McAuliffe in his drive to front-load the primaries, assuring an early nominee who will have plenty of time to unify the party. In a bonus for McAuliffe, the prospective nominee opted out of his federal matching-funds subsidy, exempting him from the anachronistically low fundraising limits assigned to nomination fights. The Kerry campaign is free to spend as much as it can raise between now and the party convention.

For President Bush and his political team, the strategic landscape has become far simpler. Fallen by the wayside are such divergent scenarios as a centrist New Democrat trying to pick off a few of the red states, an anti-political man on horseback, an Old Left protectionist appeal to the agricultural and industrial heartland, and (within a very short time, we believe) a '60s-style challenge to America's role in the world.

Instead there will be an adroit, cautious, experienced nominee whose method of uniting his party will be to incorporate, at least rhetorically, some elements of all these Democratic strains, keeping open as many tactical options as possible. What most infuriates Howard Dean about John Kerry is the latter's tendency to alternate between the two possible answers to such seemingly binary questions as President Bush's invasion of Iraq. Dean, like Kerry's other opponents, has watched helplessly as the front-runner alternately takes hawkish and dovish stances, depending on the headlines of the week.

A Bush strategy keyed on labeling Kerry an extreme liberal will be far from easy. Many voters are more apt to see the sonorous Kerry as a judicious moderate than as a wild-eyed liberal adept at wearing a moderate's mask. Kerry will often pay lip service to the idea of the election as a stark issues referendum, but in practice he can be expected to resist or try to finesse most of the president's attempts to define the content of such a choice.

This is why the Kerry candidacy represents, at least potentially, a successful Democratic riposte to the Bush team's effort to achieve a Republican realignment. In an article in these pages just after the 2002 elections ("The Beginning of the Bush Epoch?" Dec. 9, 2002), we noted that such a realignment is historically implausible because of the tendency of popular post-World War II presidents seeking a second election victory to take few risks once they have opened up a lead over their challengers. This accounts for the phenomenon of "lonely landslides"--few if any down-ticket coattails--for such decisive second victories as Eisenhower (1956), Nixon (1972), Reagan (1984), and Clinton (1996).

On the other side of the ledger, though, were two elements thrown into high relief by the historic GOP gains in the 2002 elections. First was the unusual willingness of George W. Bush to risk his political standing by intervening on behalf of weaker Republican candidates down the ballot. This underpinning of realignment has if anything deepened since 2002. To a degree unique for a sitting president heading into his last campaign, Bush and his political aides have intertwined their formidable organizing efforts with those of state parties and contested candidacies all over the country, even in states not in play in the Electoral College.

The second factor favoring realignment, we argued, was the syndrome of "Bush hatred"--the tendency of prominent Democrats to take their various disagreements with the president to a level of implacability that made them look hysterical, while Bush came across as something of a mild-mannered innocent victim. This set the stage for Bush's outmaneuvering of then Majority Leader Tom Daschle in the 2002 Senate elections on such issues as homeland security.

This is where the Democrats seem less likely to repeat their mistakes of Bush's first two years. Their minority leaders in Congress, in part because they are minority leaders, loomed less large as obstructionists in 2003 than they did the year before. And while loathing of Bush has far from disappeared in the Democratic presidential race, Kerry's gaining of the upper hand is likely to put intelligent limits on Bush hatred in the presidential campaign from now on. As an obvious example, Kerry would never make Dean's blunder of seeming to begrudge the success of U.S. forces in the capture of Saddam Hussein. So assuming Kerry and other prominent Democrats manage to avoid such lapses, they may be positioned to reap the benefits of anti-Bush polarization without the disadvantages.

The strategic challenge Bush now faces can be traced back to one of his greatest strengths as a candidate: his ability to get himself underestimated by Democratic opponents. There have been two pivotal races in Bush's career where he was running even or slightly behind his Democratic opponent heading into candidate debates: his 1994 challenge of Texas governor Ann Richards and the 2000 race against Vice President Al Gore. In both instances, Bush "won" these debates, took the lead in polls, and went on to victory in November.

Richards and Gore have the following things in common: Compared with Bush, they were far more experienced candidates, they were considered superb debaters, they were widely favored among political elites of both parties to out-debate Bush, and when the opposite occurred they were thrown badly off stride. Unlike Richards, candidate Gore made a recovery and nearly won the 2000 election. But even today, one wonders whether Gore has fully recovered from the shock of losing his debates with Bush.

How did Bush gain the upper hand against these opponents? (1) He treated his opponents with great respect, even in the face of hostility--in Gore's case, repeated and audible sighing at Bush's answers; in Richards's case, suggesting that Bush was a political novice and business failure who really didn't belong on the same stage with her. (2) He turned the debate, whenever possible, to a very few themes consistent with the campaign's issue strategy. (3) He remained calm and moderate, even when his opponent was behaving oddly (e.g., Gore's roaming the debate stage in a manner that suggested the demeanor of a stalker).

This strategy worked superbly in 1994 and 2000 in part because neither Richards nor Gore, nor their political teams, really knew very much about Bush. For a number of reasons--most particularly the feeling among Democrats that Bush had not really won the 2000 election and therefore deserved little respect--Bush continued to be underestimated by congressional Democrats in 2001 and 2002. Because of the mismatch between Democratic attacks and Bush's mild, moderate, "innocent victim" demeanor, observers in the middle instinctively sided with Bush.

By now, Democratic elites are less often fooled. They've been victims of Bush's mousetraps too often for that. And unlike Howard Dean, John Kerry will not walk into easy traps.

Moreover, the president has gotten into a habit of taking conservative positions, but using arguments that appeal far more to moderates than to conservatives to support the positions. When Senate Democrats filibuster Bush's conservative nominees to the federal judiciary, they do so because they favor a continued liberal majority on the Supreme Court concerning such issues as abortion and gay rights. They are quite open about this, and as a result the liberal base is highly mobilized.

Bush repeatedly attacks the Democrats for the filibusters, but seldom if ever mentions the issues actually at stake. Presumably in order to appeal to moderate or undecided voters, he implies that Senate Democrats oppose the advancement of Latinos or women, which voters find difficult to believe. So the filibusters continue, and the conservative base is not only not mobilized, but appears somewhat demoralized.

The other problem is with those voters in the middle to whom Bush and his political team often seem to be gearing their appeal. More and more voters sense there is a cultural divide in the country, and that Bush is on one side and most Democratic elites, including John Kerry, are on the other. This sense of a cultural divide, already evident in the demographics of the 2000 election, has been accentuated by the course of the debate on the war on terrorism, and the invasion of Iraq in particular.

Bush made several distinct arguments for the invasion of Iraq. His unsuccessful attempt to win the backing of the United Nations caused him to give greater emphasis to Saddam Hussein's possession of weapons of mass destruction than would otherwise have been the case. Now that David Kay has concluded the weapons were probably nonexistent by the time of the invasion, it no longer serves much purpose to downplay the moral arguments--the Reaganite arguments--of fighting terrorism not just by destroying weapons, but by replacing terrorist ideas with American democratic values throughout the Middle East and in the larger Islamic world. This includes by necessity the possibility of preemption and regime change. In fact it is these arguments that have the best chance of stimulating and activating the conservative base.

If Howard Dean were heading toward the nomination, Bush might still have had a significant shot at appealing to those voters in the middle. Even voters on the Democratic side of the cultural divide would have considered voting for Bush if they had feared the Democratic candidate was not just liberal, but flaky and unpredictable.

With John Kerry heading for the nomination, that is far less likely. Even Kerry's dullness works to his advantage by making him look thoughtful and competent. A Bush-Kerry matchup can be thought of as shrinking the middle almost to the disappearing point.

In a Bush vs. Kerry race, then, Bush gains nothing from withholding support for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Democrats greatly fear this issue, which is why they feel compelled to state their own belief in heterosexual marriage. On the other hand, Bush doesn't want to say anything that implies intolerance of gays, nor should he. But unless there is a programmatic difference between the two parties--namely, support or non-support for a constitutional amendment prohibiting courts from decreeing gay marriage or its equivalent as a constitutional right--Kerry has a good chance of taking the marriage issue completely off the table, even though he is from Massachusetts and voted against the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996.

On the economy, Bush is correct to focus on the future-oriented issue of tax policy. The howls that went up among Democrats when in the State of the Union speech Bush defined the Democratic position as one of future tax increases--including bringing back the hated death tax--show he is in a strong position. Democrats should get used to the idea that they will be described--correctly--as favoring huge tax increases unless they vote to make the 2001-2003 Bush tax cuts permanent.

Saying there are few remaining votes in the middle is not the same thing as saying that we will see a 50-50 election. There is a good chance that Bush's increased use of conservative explanations of conservative positions will do more than stimulate the center-right political base. It might actually win a few votes over to Bush's side of the cultural divide.

Even more likely, it will gain the attention of voters in states like Pennsylvania and Michigan who are already on Bush's side of the cultural war, but had never thought of themselves that way.

The rise of John Kerry, a competent liberal Democrat, means voting alignments will be more purely ideological, not less. In all likelihood, this election will see the culture war become concrete and unavoidable. In that kind of Bush-Kerry debate, the vision of a Bush realignment may well become a reality.

Jeffrey Bell and Frank Cannon are principals of Capital City Partners, a Washington consulting firm.

TOPICS: Foreign Affairs; Front Page News; Government; News/Current Events; Politics/Elections; US: Massachusetts
KEYWORDS: bushvskerry; gwb2004; johnkerry; wmdquotes
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1 posted on 01/30/2004 9:06:42 PM PST by Pokey78
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To: Pokey78
52-48. Which side wins is still up in the air.
2 posted on 01/30/2004 9:12:48 PM PST by .cnI redruM (Vae victis! - [woe to the vanquished].)
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To: Pokey78

"One way or the other, we are determined to deny Iraq the capacity to develop weapons of mass destruction and the missiles to deliver them.
That is our bottom line."
President Clinton, Feb. 4, 1998

"If Saddam rejects peace and we have to use force, our purpose is clear.
We want to seriously diminish the threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program."
President Clinton, Feb. 17, 1998

"Iraq is a long way from USA but, what happens there matters a great deal here. For the risks that the leaders of a rogue state will use nuclear, chemical or biological weapons against us or our allies is the greatest security threat we face."
Madeline Albright, Feb 18, 1998

"He will use those weapons of mass destruction again, as he has ten times since 1983."
Sandy Berger, Clinton National Security Adviser, Feb, 18, 1998

"We urge you, after consulting with Congress, and consistent with the U.S.Constitution and Laws, to take necessary actions, (including, if appropriate,
air and missile strikes on suspect Iraqi sites) to respond effectively to the threat posed by Iraq's refusal to end its weapons of mass destruction
Letter to President Clinton, signed by Sens. Carl Levin, Tom Daschle, John Kerry, and others Oct. 9, 1998

"Saddam Hussein has been engaged in the development of weapons of mass destruction technology which is a threat to countries in the region and he has made a mockery of the weapons inspection process."
Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D, CA), Dec. 16, 1998

"Hussein has ... chosen to spend his money on building weapons of mass destruction and palaces for his cronies."
Madeline Albright, Clinton Secretary of State, Nov. 10, 1999

"There is no doubt that ... Saddam Hussein has invigorated his weapons programs. Reports indicate that biological, chemical and nuclear programs
continue a pace and may be back to pre-Gulf War status. In addition, Saddam continues to redefine delivery systems and is doubtless using the cover of a licit missile program to develop longer-range missiles that will threaten the United States and our allies."
Letter to President Bush, Signed by Sen. Bob Graham (D, FL,) and others, December 5, 2001

"We begin with the common belief that Saddam Hussein is a tyrant and a threat to the peace and stability of the region. He has ignored the mandated of the United Nations and is building weapons of mass destruction and the means of delivering them."
Sen. Carl Levin (D, MI), Sept. 19, 2002

"We know that he has stored secret supplies of biological and chemical weapons throughout his country."
Al Gore, Sept. 23, 2002

"Iraq's search for weapons of mass destruction has proven impossible to deter and we should assume that it will continue for as long as Saddam is in power."
Al Gore, Sept. 23, 2002

"We have known for many years that Saddam Hussein is seeking and developing weapons of mass destruction."
Sen. Ted Kennedy (D, MA), Sept. 27, 2002

"The last UN weapons inspectors left Iraq in October of 1998.
We are confident that Saddam Hussein retains some stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, and that he has since embarked on a crash course to build up his chemical and biological warfare capabilities.
Intelligence reports indicate that he is seeking nuclear weapons..."
Sen. Robert Byrd (D, WV), Oct. 3, 2002

"I will be voting to give the President of the United States the authority to use force-- if necessary-- to disarm Saddam Hussein because I believe that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hands is a real and grave threat to our security."
Sen. John F. Kerry (D, MA), Oct. 9, 2002

"There is unmistakable evidence that Saddam Hussein is working aggressively to develop nuclear weapons and will likely have nuclear weapons within the next five years ... We also should remember we have always underestimated the progress Saddam has made in development of weapons of mass destruction."
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D, WV), Oct 10, 2002

"He has systematically violated, over the course of the past 11 years, every significant UN resolution that has demanded that he disarm and destroy his chemical and biological weapons, and any nuclear capacity. This he has refused to do" Rep.
Henry Waxman (D, CA), Oct. 10, 2002

"In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program.
He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including al Qaeda members . It is clear, however, that if left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons."
Sen. Hillary Clinton (D, NY), Oct 10, 2002

"We are in possession of what I think to be compelling evidence that Saddam Hussein has, and has had for a number of years, a developing capacity for the production and storage of weapons of mass destruction."
Sen. Bob Graham (D, FL), Dec. 8, 2002

"Without question, we need to disarm Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal, murderous dictator, leading an oppressive regime . He presents a particularly grievous threat because he is so consistently prone to miscalculation ... And now he is miscalculating America's response to his continued deceit and his consistent grasp for weapons of mass destruction So the threat of Saddam Hussein with weapons of mass destruction is real ..."
Sen. John F. Kerry (D, MA), Jan.23.2003
3 posted on 01/30/2004 9:17:02 PM PST by Patriot1998
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To: Pokey78
As long as no one finds out that Kerry served in Viet Nam, Bush is a shoo-in.
4 posted on 01/30/2004 9:23:49 PM PST by IncPen ( ..."and a recovery is when Mr. Carter loses his.")
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To: .cnI redruM
52-48. Which side wins is still up in the air.


5 posted on 01/30/2004 9:27:01 PM PST by sinkspur (Adopt a shelter dog or cat! You'll save one life, and maybe two!)
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To: Pokey78
Bush is a socialist. Kerry is a communist. That is our choice.
6 posted on 01/30/2004 9:33:40 PM PST by Mad_Tom_Rackham (Any day you wake up is a good day.)
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To: .cnI redruM
52-48. Which side wins is still up in the air.

I say it's another Clinton-Dole matchup.

7 posted on 01/30/2004 9:47:23 PM PST by randog (Everything works great 'til the current flows.)
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To: Patriot1998
Good post. Thanks. I'll print and save it.
8 posted on 01/30/2004 10:08:30 PM PST by Kay
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To: IncPen
As long as no one finds out that Kerry served in Viet Nam, Bush is a shoo-in.

Getting his left arm injured during WW II didn't help Dole against "draft dodger" Clinton.

9 posted on 01/30/2004 10:11:07 PM PST by dfwgator
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To: randog
If Kerry can pull himself off as a moderate, he would have a chance for one reason, he can play off the fact that the GOP will still control Congress and that the moderates may start thinking it might be better to have a Democrat President and GOP Congress, instead of the same party controlling both. Other than that Bush should win. I still think had the GOP not taken back Congress in 94, Clinton would have had a much tougher time getting re-elected.
10 posted on 01/30/2004 10:13:50 PM PST by dfwgator
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To: Howlin; Miss Marple; PhiKapMom
FYI..... a little Kerry here and a little Kerry there......
11 posted on 01/30/2004 10:20:37 PM PST by deport (BUSH - CHENEY 2004.........)
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To: Pokey78
Yes it certainly will be interesting to see how close Bush comes to equalling or beating the Reagan landslide of 1984.
12 posted on 01/30/2004 10:35:25 PM PST by g35x
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To: Pokey78
Don't forget that 'boring' Kerry will NOT energize the young, the hip, the angry and the newly interested - they will stay home in November and watch it all on MTV.
13 posted on 01/30/2004 11:00:32 PM PST by txzman (Jer 23:29)
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To: txzman
14 posted on 01/30/2004 11:56:30 PM PST by claudiustg (Go Sharon! Go Bush!)
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To: deport
Perhaps the most interesting and most important question currently is what the Deaniacs will do once the political assasination of their hero is complete.

They may well bolt; and if they do, the Dems are doomed.
15 posted on 01/31/2004 12:05:48 AM PST by EternalVigilance
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To: deport
I should mention the obvious fact that the political assasination of Dean has the Clinton's fingerprints all over the knife.
16 posted on 01/31/2004 12:07:06 AM PST by EternalVigilance
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To: Pokey78
Will be very interesting to see how successful W is in taking over the demoncartic constituency.

The same voters Kerry will be targeting!

"GOP leaders see little chance of a significant grassroots revolt over Ws immigration policy.-That's an incorrect reading, my friends- Rush Limbaugh 1-30-04
17 posted on 01/31/2004 12:09:26 AM PST by Kay Soze ("GOP see s little chance of significant grassroots revolt over Ws imm policy. -Wrong!" , Rush)
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To: Kay Soze
Frankly, at this point in history, the 'revolt' over his immigration policy is already complete, and has been successful.

It doesn't involve a revolt that will keep most conservatives from voting for him, but something more mature: The pressure on our elected officials in Congress on this key issue has already been such that any hope of passage of the Bush plan is DOA.

Game, set, match.
18 posted on 01/31/2004 12:17:50 AM PST by EternalVigilance
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To: Pokey78
And while loathing of Bush has far from disappeared in the Democratic presidential race, Kerry's gaining of the upper hand is likely to put intelligent limits on Bush hatred in the presidential campaign from now on.

What a crock. This is the second Weekly Standard article this week that really ticks me off. Kerry challenges Bush at the end of every speech with "Bring it on" and says "we're coming, you're going, and don't let the door hit you on the way out." How different is that from Dean or any other of the Bush haters?

19 posted on 01/31/2004 12:46:04 AM PST by NYCVirago
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To: dfwgator
Getting his left arm injured during WW II didn't help Dole against "draft dodger" Clinton.

Or Bush vs. Clinton in 92.

20 posted on 01/31/2004 12:49:40 AM PST by NYCVirago
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