Jewish World Review April 30, 2003 / 28 Nissan, 5763
Prez can lose
AS George Santayana put it "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." He might have included an injunction to remember the past accurately.
The mythology surrounding the dramatic fall of the first President George Bush - from dizzying heights of popularity after the Gulf War to defeat less than two years later - may obscure the real risks for George W. Bush. His campaign team could draw the wrong lessons from a misguided view of history.
Bush I did not lose because of "the economy, stupid." A good economy might not have saved him, and a bad one need not have doomed him. The economy provided the coup de grace. But he was laid low and rendered vulnerable by four other factors:
1) He faced an opponent who took away his best issues. Bill Clinton supported the death penalty, pledged an end to "welfare as we know it" and promised a tax cut for the middle class. So Bush could not use crime, welfare or taxes as issues, the three staples of the GOP.
Can a Democrat take away Bush II's issues as effectively in 2004? It depends on which Democrat. Voters might come to believe that Joe Lieberman will be as fierce against terror as the president has been. But if the opponent is John Edwards or Dick Gephardt (who have been lukewarm on the war), or Howard Dean or John Kerry (who have been largely opposed), Bush will certainly have terrorism as his core issue.
2) Bush I screwed up his signature issue by raising taxes. Having been elected on a pledge of "read my lips - no new taxes," he raised taxes anyway. Once he'd broken his core promise, he could make no others and be believed.
Dubya has certainly kept faith with the voters on his signature issues of taxes and education. But have his tax cuts gone so far as to extinguish the potency of the issue? The Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll of April 24 would suggest that they have. Asked which tax cut proposal they would prefer, only 18 percent of voters backed the president's proposed $726 billion reduction, while 16 percent supported only a $550 billion cut, and 45 percent wanted a smaller tax cut or none at all. That issue isn't going to get anyone re-elected in 2004.
3) The Gulf War lost its relevance. Once Bush Sr. left Saddam in power, the war issue disappeared. It was nowhere to be found in the '92 campaign.
Will the War on Terror still captivate the nation's attention 18 months from now? The president's successes may haunt him. If he succeeds in dealing with North Korea and prevents attacks at home, the issue's political potency may evaporate before Election Day.
4) Bush I had no domestic-policy issue with which to control events. With no domestic agenda beyond fighting the recession and cutting the deficit, he lost control over the political dialogue.
Dubya faces much the same problem: He lacks a domestic-policy issue. If terror fades - either because of Bush's success or because Lieberman wins the Democratic nomination - he's got no backup. Tax cuts aren't the answer; nor is partial-birth abortion or energy production or lawsuit limitation.
Bush needs a hot-button domestic issue with which to dominate the debate of 2004. I think that a crackdown on immigration from terrorist nations and drug testing for students in schools may offer the best choices. But without an issue that controls the domestic agenda, President Bush may repeat his father's history.
Will Bush win? Yes, probably - but it's not in the bag.
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JWR contributor Dick Morris is the author of, among others, "Power Plays: Top 20 Winning and Losing Strategies of History's Great Political Leaders" Comment by clicking here.
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04/21/03: The war that network news lost in Iraq
04/15/03: Media meltdown
04/10/03: Giving government a good name
04/03/03: Polls' message to Bush: Relax and win the war
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03/26/03: Carping pessimism of TV anchors and interviewers fails to give Americans a sense of defeatism
03/17/03: Poll: Get on with it
03/13/03: It's time for U.S. to play hardball at U.N.
03/10/03: The whole (Hispanic) world is watching
03/07/03: Anti-war errors
03/05/03: Domino theory II: Toppling Mideast despots
03/03/03: Europe's triangulators: Chirac and Blair
02/27/03: Invasion? More like a coup
02/21/03: The first casualty of Iraq war: Liberal credibility
02/19/03: Old Europe's last hurrah
02/14/03: Corzine throws down gauntlet on Wall St. fraud
02/12/03: An exile deal for Saddam
02/07/03: The Dems give up the House
02/05/03: France: Saddam's ally
02/03/03: War critics will suffer
02/30/03: Even by Clinton standards, it's sheer chutzpah
01/24/03: Rebirth of the balanced budget Republican
01/22/03: Next to Bubba, Dubya's got it good
01/16/03: End racism in affirmative action
01/13/03: The new swing voter
01/10/03: Political e-mailing comes of age
01/07/03: In Dem race: Home field no advantage
12/31/02: Hey, Hillary: Want to appear like a stateswomyn? Stay silent
12/19/02: Kerry in the lead
12/19/02: Lieberman the frontrunner
12/17/02: In defense of Lott
12/02/02: An issue for Bush: Drugs
11/27/02: Women gone wobbly?
11/25/02: The U.N. over a barrel
11/15/02: Gore's suicide
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11/08/02 I have egg on my face
11/01/02 Is Bush losing control over events?
10/25/02What is causing Bush's free fall?
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10/23/02: A deadline for Iraq
10/18/02: Only sure bet of 2002 elections is voter angst
10/16/02: Endangered incumbents
10/11/02: Why multilateralism doesn't work
10/09/02: Hey, Dems: Believe NYTimes polling at your own risk
10/03/02: Dem suicide: Let's count the ways
09/30/02: The Dems just can't stop themselves
09/26/02: The perils of polling
09/19/02: W. boxed in the U.N.
09/19/02: Welfare reform: Keep on keeping on
09/12/02: Are Dems insane on Iraq?
09/09/02: Twin shadows of Election '02
09/05/02: GOP should triangulate
08/28/02: Trust the military
08/22/02: It's not the economy, stupid
08/09/02: As America unites, Gore goes divisive
08/01/02: Bush must focus on big picture
07/23/02: Election 2002: Advantage Dems
07/19/02: Rudy for SEC tough cop
07/17/02: The investor strike
07/15/02: Door open for drug testing students --- go for it, GOP!
07/12/02: Dubya looking out for No. 1?
07/03/02: The DNA war for Bush's soul
06/21/02: Why are conservatives winning?
06/19/02: Learning to love the feds
06/14/02: Hey, journalists and Dems: Dubya is doing just fine
06/12/02: It's terrorism, stupid!
06/10/02: Sanctions are a potent weapon
06/04/02: Al Qaeda's more dangerous new front
05/31/02: Why '04 looks tough for liberal Dems
05/24/02: Democratic self-destruction
05/22/02: The Clinton failures
05/15/02: Pataki positioned to win
05/08/02: A wakeup-call for American Jewry
05/03/02: Give Bush back his focus
05/01/02: Immigration fault li(n)es
04/25/02: It's the war, stupid
04/17/02: Bush goes small bore
04/12/02: Bush must be a gentle partisan
04/10/02: In defense of polling
04/08/02: Focus on Iraq, not the Palestinians
04/01/02: Only Internet will bring real campaign finance reform
03/27/02: Where W's drawn a line in the sand
03/22/02: Enron scandal will not trigger a wave of economic populism
03/20/02: Term-limited --- by war
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03/11/02: Bush popularity = GOP win?
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02/21/02: Campaign finance reform won't hurt GOPers
02/13/02: Dodd scurries for cover
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02/01/02: They all talk in the end
01/30/01: The odd couple: Chris Dodd and Arthur Andersen
01/22/01: His father's son? Bush better get an 'Act II' fast!
01/18/01: Dubya & the 'vision thing'
01/14/01: The Rumsfeld Doctrine
01/03/01: A President Gore would have been a disaster
01/03/02: Clinton's priority: Political correctness over fighting terror
12/27/01: Terror network grew out of Clinton's inaction, despite warnings
12/24/01: Call 'em back, George
12/18/01: What Bush did right
12/13/01: Libs worry too much
12/11/01: "Open Sesame": Feinstein's proposed bill allows 100,000 non-immigrant students from anti-American countries to our shores
12/07/01: The non-partisan president
12/05/01: Both parties are phony on stimulus debate
11/29/01: When terrorists can enter legally, it's time to change the laws
11/21/01: Go for the jugular!
11/16/01: You are all incumbents
11/14/01: Clinton's failure to mobilize America to confront foreign terror after the 1993 attack led directly to 9-11 disaster
11/12/01: To the generals: Don't worry about losing support
11/08/01: The death of the white liberal
11/07/01: Our leaders are being transformed in a way unprecedented in post-World War II history
© 2002, Dick Morris