Friday :: Mar 12, 2004

As Consumer Confidence Falls, More Signs Of Concern Inside GOP


by Steve

According to a piece in today’s Los Angeles Times, there is renewed concern over the Bush political team and their performance so far. Sprinkled into the piece are the usual, “buck-up”, confident remarks by the campaign folks that everything is fine. But the theme of the story is that due to internal inabilities, unfavorable issues to run on, and Kerry’s campaign, the Bushies are having a bad time of it.

As President Bush steps up his reelection bid, key Republican officials and strategists are expressing concern about his campaign, saying the White House took too long to engage in the race and lacks a clear strategy for addressing voters' economic worries.

"People are anxious," said David Carney, a Republican strategist in New Hampshire and White House political director for Bush's father. "There's a lot of fretting going on out there."

Much of the hand-wringing stems from recent polls that showed Bush trailing Kerry nationwide. Most Republicans see that as the inevitable result of steady pounding from Democrats who have been campaigning — and bashing the president — for well over a year.

But not everyone blames Bush's problems solely on his political foes.

"No jobs are being created. They did not find weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq, said Eddie Mahe Jr., a veteran GOP strategist. "That provided the constant stream of attacks a level of credibility and legitimacy they otherwise might not have."

"We've seen a lot of mistakes and, frankly, some degree of incompetence out of an operation that, up to now, was closing ranks and executing very well," said a GOP strategist who sometimes advises the White House. Like some others interviewed, he did not want to be identified.

But even some inside the campaign acknowledge Bush's reelection team has been less than sure-footed in responding to Kerry's daily attacks and to the anxiety in states where job losses remain a critical issue.

"I worry about Ohio," said one outside campaign advisor, who also requested anonymity. "We've got a real vulnerability on the jobs issue if we can't get that discussion going in a different direction."

Just a few months ago, the president seemed in a commanding position to win reelection. Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was in custody. Statistics out of Washington suggested an economy primed for strong job growth. Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean seemed poised to win the Democratic nomination, setting up a November contest many Republicans relished.

But the post-Hussein euphoria wore off quickly. Job creation has been anemic. And Dean's campaign collapsed, clearing a path for Kerry, a veteran senator from Massachusetts, to emerge as the presumptive Democratic nominee more quickly and in better political shape than many expected.

"That's the thing nobody guessed," said Kenneth M. Duberstein, an aide in the Reagan White House. Republicans "expected more civil war."

But many say the White House compounded its problems in a series of missteps.

Bush's State of the Union address in January, a chance to frame the election-year debate, disappointed many Republicans, one of whom dubbed it "a laundry list" with no thematic core. The president, this GOP strategist added, is "at his strongest when he's focused on three, four things to the exclusion of all others…. He's all over the map now, sending a lot of confused messages to the voters."

Meantime, the Kerry campaign has taken credit for throwing the administration on the defensive twice this week alone.

On Monday, Kerry lambasted Bush for declining to meet for more than an hour with the commission investigating the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. A day later, a White House spokesman said Bush would answer all of the panel's questions.

On Wednesday, the administration postponed appointing a Nebraska manufacturing executive as the country's new manufacturing czar after the Kerry campaign alerted reporters that the nominee had set up a factory in China. The executive, Tony Raimundo, on Thursday removed himself from consideration for the job. Administration officials said the delay in the appointment was not related to the Kerry campaign's move.

Some headaches have come from inside the administration.

The White House was embarrassed when Education Secretary Rod Paige called the National Education Assn. a "terrorist organization." And administration officials cringed after Bush's top economic advisor, N. Gregory Mankiw, extolled the virtues of shipping jobs overseas.

Mankiw's comments resonated in several Midwestern states that have suffered some of the worst job losses over the last three years — and that promise to be key battlegrounds in the November race. Republican Rep. Jo Ann Emerson of Missouri said the comment made the administration "appear out of touch" — a perception that undermined his father's 1992 reelection campaign.

"I think it is important for [the president] to show the American people he shares their concern about the issue," Emerson said. "I have no doubt he is concerned. But I would like him to talk more about it."

Last week, the president was forced to defend the use of imagery from the Sept. 11 attacks in his campaign ads. Survivors of some victims and a firefighters union backing Kerry accused Bush of exploiting the tragedy.

The president has defended the commercial, saying he will "continue to speak about the effects of Sept. 11" on the country and his presidency. But many Republicans are troubled that the campaign has spent so much time on damage control.

"We need key states in the Midwest, where the whole outsourcing [of jobs] is a big problem, and we don't have an answer," said a GOP strategist on Capitol Hill who requested anonymity. "This White House that seemed to be so disciplined, so political, doing such a good job, looks awfully bumbling to me."

And as E. J. Dionne reports in the Post this morning, Bush is losing voters on the economy as their confidence falls and he finds himself unable to run on the “Morning in America” angle he was hoping for.

Looks like Karl will be having the first of many long weekends ahead.

Steve :: 7:41 AM :: Comments (6) :: Digg It!