How much can we learn from 1992?

This piece from the Washington Times by Tony Blankley argues that President Bush’s situation with respect to re-election should not be compared to that of his father twelve years ago and that, barring a depression, the economy will not be the decisive element in the election of 2004. Blankley describes two valid distinctions between the circumstances of father and son: the country did not face an ongoing security threat after the first Bush’s successful war in Iraq and the first Bush did not press a vigorous agenda to stimulate the economy.
However, I believe that Blankley is too quick to minimize the extent to which the economy could undermine the current Bush. The fallacy in Blankley’s analysis is his view that the first Bush did not lose the 1992 election because of the economy. Blankley blames everything but the economy, and principally blames the first Bush’s failure to keep his “no new taxes” pledge, the Buchanan insurgency, and the Perot campaign. However, Bush’s popularity was astronomically high even after he agreed to tax increases. It began to decline only when the economy seemed to falter. And I would argue that it was the perception of a faltering economy that gave legs to (if not created) the Buchanan insurgency and the Perot campaign. Presidents who are considered successful do not ordinarily face significant challenges from within their party or from third party candidates.
I believe that this President Bush will get more slack from voters over the economy because of his success in the war against terrorism and because he has an economic program that is attractive to his base and to many swing voters. However, if the Democrats nominate someone who is credible on terrorism and foreign policy issues, it will not take a depression to make the economy a central issue in 2004.

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