The Mask Comes Off
Dana Milbank's article yesterday brought to mind something that I had intended to write about a while back. You'll recall that on February 23rd Dubya gave a speech at a fundraiser for the Republican Governor's Association in which he ripped into Kerry for the first time. The next morning, he delivered his endorsement of the FMA (funny how this hasn't been brought up by the Bush campaign in the weeks since, eh?). Anyway, at the time I was surprised by Bush's newfangled "aggressive" partisan persona, but figured his campaign was simply testing out the waters. However, Milbank's column demonstrates that this strategy has become the campaign's standard operating procedure. Which is a huge mistake for them.
By now, it's fairly obvious that the Bush campaign has basically run on ammunition. Can't run on the economy. Can't run on foreign policy (not that it existed to begin with, but still). The only leg his campaign has to stand on is Dubya's "character". Specifically, while his re-election numbers have fallen precipitously, Bush's personal approval ratings have remained fairly steady. Although we may agonize about Bush's inexplicable personal popularity, the fact is that the majority of Americans buy into his folksy, aw-shucks persona.
For this reason, I find Bush's recent attacks on Kerry to be utterly inexplicable. Although the purpose of this strategy is to drive up Kerry's negatives (and this, in fact, may succeed), Bush will have to shed his regular-guy persona in the process. What many erstwhile admirers will see is a petty, hyper-partisan brat, which is contrary to the carefully crafted persona the White House has cultivated. Indeed, Rove's M.O. until now has been for Bush to remain above the fray while his surrogates ruthlessly smear his opponents (see the 2000 primary in South Carolina for proof). Having Bush himself go on the attack not only runs counter to this largely successful strategy, but threatens to jeopardize Bush's sole remaining political asset; namely his affable, party guy persona. Again, I find this totally inexplicable, and the sign of a campaign running out of ideas and self-confidence.
BTW-The Milbank article mentions how Bush has specifically referred to his challenger the earliest of any president in recent memory. By the same token, how friggin' cool would it be if, between now and November, Kerry only refers to "my opponent" and not "the president"?