Bush at His Zenith-Part Two
As I said yesterday, George W. Bush is sitting in a pretty good position right now. He has control of the media, he is being chased by a pack of nine candidates all struggling to get air time and gain policy credibility (as if anything Bush has done domestically has worked), and the public likes him. Given the reasons above and the success that Karl Rove has had in managing Bush’s prior campaigns and keeping him focused on only several issues, one could argue that there are few landmines in W’s path to reelection.
Anyone would be right for concluding this. And they would be wrong.
First, in order for Bush to close the deal with voters for next year, he needs to convince them that he has effective answers for the problems facing this country and will implement them, not just act like he is addressing those problems. As I said yesterday, Rove will have Bush focus on no more than four issues, which I believe will be fear/national security, tax reduction/jobs, a Medicare drug benefit, and a wild card which I believe will be the old GOP staple of values/patriotism. Any issues that Bush tries to touch outside of this cocoon, such as energy, education, or tort reform, have the makings of being thrown lethally back into his face. And he will never talk about the environment, so we have to.
Yet aside from having effective solutions to address these four issues, Bush will have to show that he is committed to fixing those problems. But David Rosenbaum’s piece in the NYT today confirms that for Bush the perception that he is engaged in problem solving is as important, if not more so than actually solving problems. In addition, there is growing evidence that his plank of tax cuts/jobs will not stimulate the economy to create jobs, and that the President continues to lie in selling the program. Similar problems exist with Bush’s proposals in Medicare drug assistance, where his plans would still require large out of pocket expenses for seniors.
Second, Bush needs a united and effective Republican machine in Congress to steamroll these policies through the Democrats. But both the Washington Post and the New York Times have stories today that indicate the one-party GOP control of Congress manufactured by Karl Rove in the 2002 midterms and the selection of Bill Frist as Majority Leader has run aground already. Add to that the usual internal knee-capping that the GOP and its associated hitmen perform to coerce compliance with the “Bush is Always Right” script and what you have is a GOP that has all the makings of implosion. Also, it is interesting to note that there is more party discipline in the Nancy Pelosi-led House opposition than there is in the GOP majority caucuses in either house. This has led to a situation where even GOP media outlets speculate that the Bush economic package is doomed. Yes, if the economy is still bad next year Bush could claim that it is Congress’s fault, but who controls Congress right now?
Moreover, aside from the problems Bush will face with the merits of his proposals and his sincerity in pursuing them, and the internal fighting amongst the GOP team that Rove put together to control Congress, there is the issue of the gaggle of nine Democrats who are running for Bush’s job. Most of the candidates did a better than expected job in raising funds during the first quarter, with Kerry and Edwards doing the best, although those figures also reflect monies transferred from other Senate accounts. It is notable that Kerry raised a significant amount of money from just three places: Massachusetts, New York, and California. Edwards naturally raised much of his money from attorneys, but more noteworthy is that he raised over $1.5 million just in the South alone, the most of any candidate. Gephardt and Graham did the best job of grabbing the low-hanging fruit, with both raising almost all of their money from their home states.
Dean did very well in California, and seems to have the best small-donor network around. His Internet network of activists is an effective, low-cost communication and fundraising structure that may pay benefits over the marathon of a costly campaign.
As for how the likely Bush issues that I outline above play to the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate, I would like to hear what you think before I weigh in on this in my third installment.