It’s usually not very difficult to say at this stage whether an incumbent president is likely to be re-elected. If the economy is perceived to be in the tank, the president is quite likely to be defeated. Likewise, if there’s been a huge foreign policy/military set-back. Absent either of these things (which is the present situation), the incumbent president is quite likely to win.
But what if the president led the country to war relying on factual assertions that, in retrospect, are npw perceived to be almost surely false? I don’t know. As a general matter, I think the presumption is, and should be, that such a president would be turned out of office, especially where the aftermath of the war is proving to be difficult and deadly. But this is only a presumption. What if the president relied on information which, though probably false, was the best information available and was generally accepted to be true by other leaders, including the prior president from the other political party? What if the war proved to be a success overall, and can be justified based on reasons other than those that were asserted at the time? What if the nation is engaged in a global war on terrorism that generally seems to be going well? What if the other party nominates a candidate whose record doesn’t inspire confidence with respect to national security? Again, I don’t know.
Ultimately, though, I think the election may turn on the situation on the ground in Iraq next summer and fall. I suspect that the American people will forgive President Bush for making a good faith error about whether Iraq had WMD, but not if that error is still generating serious bad news as the election nears.
This, of course, leaves Bush in a tricky situation. He can’t fully control the situation on the ground, much less the way that situation is being reported. Unfortunately, 2004 is shaping up as a more interesting year than I had anticipated.
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