The Case for Optimism

As regular readers know, I have been concerned for some time about the President’s prospects in November. Yesterday I reviewed recent poll data which, in my opinion, do not paint a pretty picture for President Bush. This brought a rejoinder from Dafydd ab Hugh, one of our most regular and most astute correspondents. He lays out, very well, the case for optimism:

As Fred Barnes, Mort Kondrake, Mara Liason, and Brit Hume all noted Thursday — and as should be obvious to you, for you’re very plugged in
— we have had about three or four months of *half* a campaign: the Democratic half. There has been as yet no Republican campaign.
For months, every Democratic candidate has relentlessly pounded on George W. Bush… and contrary to all history, none even laid a glove on John F-word Kerry. They were so spooked by what happened before Iowa when Gephardt and Dean got into a monkey-poop flinging contest that the cowards simply refused to engage with Kerry at all.
The news media of course were complicit; they’re spoiling for a fight, but they’d much rather see a fight between everyone and George Bush than anyone and John Kerry.
And with all that, the *best* that Kerry was able to do was fight to parity. He has clawed his way back from a deficit… but he couldn’t make it to a clear lead. His leads have all been within the margin, as have Bush’s recently.
But this is Kerry’s peak. He could conceivably rise a bit during the Democratic convention, but that will be erased by the Republican convention which follows. There is virtually nothing Kerry can do at this point to raise his own approval: everything good about him has already come out and been digested.
By contrast, almost none of the bad is even known to most people: they may have vaguely heard that he protested against Vietnam — which, stated as sanitary as that, sounds like a plus — but most people have no idea the horrible things he said about his “band of brothers” at the time. They don’t know that he threw somebody else’s medals over the White House fence.
They don’t know about his flip-flops. They don’t know about his stark liberalism. They haven’t had a chance to hear more than a soundbite from JFK, so they don’t understand the profound arrogance and disdain the man has for them.
They don’t really understand just how French he is.
Likewise, they haven’t heard a word of the accomplishments of the Bush administration. Certainly the Democrats aren’t going to talk about that, and the news media (as usual) has been derelect in its duty to give both sides. And the last four or five months have been about the worst in Bush’s presidency, mostly because of things that are pretty much out of his control.
But all that changes now. Now is when the fundraising of the president and the GOP proves its worth: first there is going to be a period of building up Bush and rehabilitating his credibility; then, once the American people’s respect for Bush again matches their liking of him, the ads will start to bring some of John Kerry’s negative side to the attention of the voters.
Kerry will drop from his peak; and Bush will definitely rise from this, his nadir. (And the other Nader will have no effect.) Good things will happen because they always do: incumbents are rainmakers. There will be job creation on the establishment survey; and the Rove-Cheney reelection team will also begin introducing people to the household survey, just as good a measure of jobs (better, actually, because it picks up the self-employed, independent contractors, and those working for new, small businesses) — on which we’re *already* “in the black” in job creation, more jobs today than when Bush became president.
The Iraqis will sign the constitution. We’ll hand over sovereignty and begin withdrawing troops, leaving those that remain in pretty well defended and secure positions. There will be more big captures… probably Zarqawi, possibly even Zawahiri and even bin Laden, if he’s still sucking air (or a definitive answer that he’s dead, whichever). There will be lots of shots in the news of Libya destroying its WMDs.
We may even find a small, overlooked cache or two of CBW in Iraq. We know it existed; how sure can they be that they scrubbed everything? And in any event, the campaign will use commercials, speeches, and debates to make their case for why they went to war and to make the case that the intelligence was *not* “totally wrong,” as the Dems have charged.
There *has been* a lot of WMD stuff found: but it’s been programs and components, often dual-use, none of which the Democrats or the French have accepted as proof….The Bush team must begin making that case… and it will. They’re not going to ignore Iraq and hope the Democrats don’t bring it up.
There is only one job-approval survey in the last month that has Bush below 48, and only one that has him in negative territory. The rest all have him at 48 or above and in positive territory (thirteen out of fifteen). With the slightest movement up, he’s over the magic 50% mark… and I don’t believe any president running for reelection with a job-approval rating over 50% in, say, October has ever been defeated in the history of polling.
Nor has any president in my lifetime — or possibly in the last century — ever been defeated for reelection if the voters like him, personally, better than his opponent. All of the incumbent losers…were up against people who at the time of the election were personally better liked than the incumbent.
Do you really believe that when voters get a chance to see both Bush and Kerry up close and personal, that they’ll get a warm, fuzzy feeling about the aloof, Gallic, and peevish Mr. K? Or will he rather repel them? Bush, by contrast, is exactly the kind of guy that everyone personally likes when they meet him, either in person or in ads, townhall meetings, and debates.
And let’s not forget those debates. The Democrats (as usual) claim to be salivating to contrast “the hero” with “the deserter.” But wait, didn’t we already have this debate? Weren’t they equally eager to see Al Gore tear Bush a new one? Bush, it turns out, despite being pretty bad in one-on-one interviews, is a very good debater. And he gives good speech; Americans love a good stemwinder.
John, your pessimism is as unfounded as it is self-destructive. Bush has a lot of innate advantages, and he’s *not* in that bad a position to begin a campaign.

I think that most of what Dafydd says is true. Still, my concern isn’t about Kerry’s high standing–not all that high, actually, and of course the bad stuff about him hasn’t even begun to come out. Rather, it is about the fact that the public does know President Bush, and he can’t get his approval rating up to 50%. Given the close partisan divide in today’s electorate, and the fact that whatever bipartisan support Bush enjoyed for much of his term is now gone, the election will probably turn on events that haven’t happened yet–events that Bush will exercise little control over, and Kerry none.


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