There were really four players in last night’s president debate — George Bush, John Kerry, Charles Gibson, and Nikki. Nikki is the “undecided voter” who informed President Bush that her mother and sister had traveled abroad this summer, and that they had been distressed by the anti-Americanism they encountered. This set up Bush’s best answer of the evening, one in which he reminded voters how unpopular Ronald Reagan had been in Europe when he made the decisions that led to the downfall of the Soviet Union. For good measure, Bush was able to remind Jewish voters and friends of Israel that some of our unpopularity in Europe is down to his unwillingness to deal with Arafat.
After this Bush home run, you might have thought that John Kerry would banish Nikki and her question from his thoughts, and return to his regular Bush-bashing script. You would have been wrong. Kerry, in fact, became obsessed with Nikki and her question, referring back to her several times during the debate. In one instance, he did it at the expense of another female questioner, who looked a bit non-plussed as she tried to figure whether Kerry had gotten her name wrong or was answering someone else’s question.
John Kerry is unhappy with President Bush about many things. But last night’s debate reinforced my belief that, in his mind, the single worst thing Bush has done is to lower our popularity in Europe, the Kerry family’s European travel less pleasant.
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