How Comfortable Exactly Is The White House Now?
As John Kerry solidifies his position as the Democratic front-runner, is George W. Bush sweating the election? Ed Gillespie and the other smearing spinmeisters at the RNC will of course tell you no, as they line up their attacks against Kerry and his record, which is to be expected. But with the White House having to recalculate its campaign and electoral strategy away from the likelihood of a Dean-led ticket to the emerging possibility of a Kerry-Edwards or Kerry-Clark ticket, and facing an ongoing assault by Democratic candidates more focused on Bush than each other, there are signs of worry at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
First, despite some vulnerabilities in his votes and record that he will need to defend more effectively against Rove, Kerry is showing signs of slipping into the front-runner role well and at just the right time. As the Washington Post noted today in their analysis of the debate last night, although Kerry faces attacks from each of them for natural reasons, it seems that the lessons from Iowa have translated into multipronged attacks against Bush, rather than each other.
Second, the Bush campaign is warning the RNC this afternoon that the 2004 race will be close. Although this could be nothing more than the usual lowering of expectations in a Rovian world, it could also reflect a new worry amongst the White House that despite ongoing efforts to tag Kerry as a liberal with a spotty record, such attacks may not work as well against Kerry as they did against Gore in 2000.
Third, recent polls show that Bush’s approval ratings are heading downward again, after his limp SOTU and the White House touting of whatever passes for the Bush agenda these days. A new ARG poll shows that Bush’s approval/disapproval rating is now tied at 47%/47%, with Bush losing back all his gains since October. On the economy, ARG finds that Bush has his highest disapproval rating (54%) ever. ARG also reports that in a head-to-head match up, Bush (46%) and Kerry (47%) are virtually tied.
Fourth, Bush is resorting to accounting tricks to make his budget work out, by leaving out Iraq costs and tax changes that would balloon the deficit even higher than it is. Even with those tricks, his party’s deficit hawks are warning that politically risky cuts in domestic spending will be necessary to overcome the cost increases in the Medicare drug bill, which will paint Bush and the GOP in a bad light during the year.
Fifth, Bush faces unforeseen problems with his refusal to go along with an independent probe into what went wrong with the Iraq WMD intelligence. If he keeps resisting, it will look like he is hiding something, and if he is forced to go along, it may end up doing damage.
Sixth, Bush finds himself relegated to following the Democrats around the country to convince the faithful that he is not as bad as the Democrats paint him out to be. Plus, it must have caught the eye of the White House that over 8,000 Republicans in the New Hampshire GOP primary didn’t vote for Bush, but instead wrote in the names of Democratic opponents.
Lastly, while the economy still grew at a less-than-expected 4% in the fourth quarter, economists are questioning whether consumer spending will keep up without improvements in the job market, where unemployment is already understated. Both durable goods orders and home sales didn’t meet expectations in December, and as the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities pointed out this week, over 750,000 unemployed workers lost their benefits in just the last two months, thereby putting a severe drag on a questionable economy.
And this doesn’t even take into account possible difficulties in Iraq or Afghanistan. So let’s see how comfortable Karl and the gang are over the next several months. Maybe they’ll pull Osama out of a hat just in time.