No more war presidency?

Dick Morris thinks that John Kerry’s flip-flops will prove fatal to his campaign. According to Morris, once President Bush gets the flip-flop message out, Kerry will be unable to back away from his liberal record. In other words, “By showing Kerry to flip-flop, Bush sets him up for the real charges – that he is too weak and too liberal to be president.” Morris concludes that “If Bush runs aggressive national advertisements, hammering at these themes, he can put this race away by the end of the spring.”
I wish I could share Morris’ optimism (assuming that Morris regards his prediction as such). I believe, however, that this race is much more about President Bush than about John Kerry. If the electorate really believes (and continues to believe) that Bush is taking the country in the wrong direction, then Bush will continue to lag in the polls. Kerry’s defects will largely be overlooked until very late in the campaign when he will finally come under scrutiny intense, as Bush finally did at the very end of the 2000 cycle. At that point, he will be in some trouble, but it’s far from clear that Kerry will be viewed as too liberal or wishy-washy to be the vehicle through America accomplishes a necessary change in direction. Recall that Bill Clinton was damaged goods by the end of the 1992 campaign, but still was entrusted to bring about change.
But do (and will) the voters believe that the country is moving in the wrong direction? To the extent that they hold this belief, it must be because (a) they don’t want a war presidency and (b) they are unhappy with the economy. But the economy is performing at a level that historically is good enough to see the incumbent re-elected. So it’s probably the war presdency that’s the rub. This would explain why Bush took such a tumble after his strident State of the Union speech. But I’m not yet able to conclude that the electorate is ready to forget the lessons of 9/11. Indeed, the Gallop poll results posted below by Rocket Man suggest that it is not.

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