A Rove Strategy Backfires
Dana Milbank pens a great Page One in Friday’s Washington Post which argues that Kerry has benefited from Rove’s obsession with driving Kerry’s negatives and voters’ expectations of him so far downward that they were very impressed with the man who showed up on stage looking more presidential than the incumbent. In essence, Rove is a victim of the same strategy he used on his own man in 2000. By making Kerry out to be a flip-flopping far left cartoon figure of no core convictions, there was no way that Kerry couldn’t greatly exceed those low expectations in the debates and clobber Bush with his steadiness, knowledge, and clear delivery, unlike the hapless incumbent.
"Leading up to the first debate, the Bush campaign very effectively defined John Kerry as a wishy-washy flip-flopper who never knew where he stood, and then they get on the stage and here's a John Kerry who differs from the perception," said Tony Fabrizio, a Republican pollster.
Marshall Wittmann, a former aide to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) now with the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, said Bush had gone "over the top" in making Kerry seem ridiculous.
"It was a case of taking a caricature to such an extent and not realizing the caricature could be disassembled by the candidate himself in the debates," he said. "You would have expected a hybrid of Jane Fonda and Ted Kennedy would walk on stage. . . . People expected to see a left-wing, beaded radical."
Instead, viewers saw a Kerry who, if not dazzling and likable, was generally coherent and at times even forceful. And voters seemed pleasantly surprised.
In the Washington Post tracking poll, the number of respondents viewing Kerry favorably jumped 12 percentage points between early September and this week; voters by 48 percent to 43 percent now view Kerry favorably, putting him in the same area as Bush, who is viewed favorably by 49 percent and unfavorably by 46 percent.
"People thought he was a candidate who couldn't put one foot in front of the other and didn't have a clear point of view," said pollster Andrew Kohut, who directs the nonpartisan Pew Research Center. "He stood up there calmly and decisively and had a lot of facts."
It’s good to see when something backfires on Rove.