Last night, Dick Morris was on television claiming that John Kerry’s Clintonista advisers committed a major blunder by making the war in Iraq the focal point of the Senator’s campaign in the home stretch of the election. Morris’ analysis is always interesting and sometimes correct. When the race was deadlocked early in the year, he predicted that President Bush would pull away in the spring. It didn’t happen then, but appears to have happened in late summer, and that’s good enough for us.
I think Morris is wrong in his critique of the “Clinton” strategy, though — so wrong that I wonder whether Morris is just looking for a chance to slam his former colleagues (Morris routinely opines that this crew may want Kerry to lose because that’s in Hillary Clinton’s interest). Keep in mind that, since Kerry seems unlikely to win, there’s little risk of looking bad by attacking the current strategy even if it’s the best one available.
The reason why Kerry is correct, from a purely political standpoint, to focus on Iraq is that he has no other issue that holds any glimmer of hope. The economy is in good enough shape that people don’t regard it as the primary issue or an unambiguously pro-Kerry one. Terrorism is the primary issue, but Kerry has no tangible evidence that Bush isn’t succeeding in the war on terror. Iraq is the only issue perceived as vital for which Kerry has tangible evidence that Bush’s policies have failed. Without attacking Bush on Iraq, Kerry has no potentially compelling basis for asking the country to change its leadership.
In addition, Iraq is the area where events could turn most dramatically against the president. The state of the economy isn’t going to change significantly in the next five weeks. A terrorist attack on the homeland could occur, but it’s far from clear that this would help Kerry. In any event, Kerry would want to be in a position to say he warned the country that our effort in Iraq had detracted from our focus on terrorists who can attack the U.S. In Iraq itself, the situation could turn far more bloody at any point, and such a turn would work unambiguously in Kerry’s favor.
None of this is to suggest that Iraq is a great issue for Kerry. Arguing that the U.S. is failing when the evidence seems ambiguous does not cast him in an attractive light. And his flip-flops on the subject make his position (any position) nearly untenable. As things have played out, however, Iraq is Kerry’s only meaningful issue, and the Clintonistas know it.
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