Blowout in the Making

Dick Morris thinks the wheels are coming off the Kerry campaign:

But with the gap closing because of Kerry’s drop, the impact is likely to last a lot longer. The fact is that 6 to 9 percent of Americans were voting for the Democrat two weeks ago and now are undecided. The doubts that Bush’s ads are raising about Kerry are not going to go away; they will grow as the ads continue and the facts pile up.

I’m not sure about this. Kerry is getting plenty of free media help with the Clarke story and the constant trickle of bad news from Iraq.

The polls are starting to reflect the effectiveness of Bush’s ads, which depict Kerry explaining his ultra-liberal record to the voters. This Democrat, who escaped scrutiny by posing as the un-Dean in the primary, is now being revealed as the leftist he is.

Having defeated the three candidates of his party who might have beaten Bush – Wesley Clark, Joe Lieberman and John Edwards – Kerry is finding out that America is a centrist nation.

I’ve never understood the argument that a candidate that’s too weak to win the party’s nomination would be the better general election candidate. Yes, all those guys are more centrist than Kerry. But they couldn’t even excite their own natural constituency. Kerry beat Clark with veterans. He beat Edwards in the South. I’m not sure who Lieberman’s constituency was supposed to be, but it was apparently pretty damned small.

Bush’s attacks have focused on the issues of terrorism and taxes. Kerry has not even answered the first charge and has given only a ritualistic denial of the second. Instead of answering Bush’s charges in detail, he piously asks, in his ads, if the president has anything more to offer America than negative ads. But Americans don’t see the Bush ads as below the belt, but as welcome information about a man they don’t know who is running for president.

Indeed, the latest New York Times/CBS survey indicates that 60 percent of the voters feel Kerry is telling them what they want to hear, not what he really believes. Bush is opening a credibility gap which is only widened by Kerry’s ridiculous statement that he voted for the $87 billion appropriation for the war effort before he voted against it.

In the next round of attack ads, Bush should focus on Kerry’s previous support for a 50 cent increase in the gasoline tax. Remember, it was the gas tax, more than any other issue, that cost the Democrats control of Congress in 1994. With pump prices closing in on $2 a gallon, Americans will not look kindly on someone who proposes to add another half-dollar per gallon.

Now, this part, I tend to agree with. The tax issue has been a consistent winner for the Republicans. For whatever reason the “only the rich got the cuts” argument has never gained traction. I’m still not sure that the war is a plus for Bush. What is a plus, though, is that Bush has at least taken a consistent position on the issue.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2004, Terrorism, , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dodd says:

    Yes, all those guys are more centrist than Kerry. But they couldn’t even excite their own natural constituency.

    I submit that that is not an indication of those candidate’s weakness as general election prospects but, rather, of the disconnect between that “natural constituency” and the voting public. Had Lieberman won the primary, obviously the vast majority of the ABB crowd would have voted for him. And conservative types like me – and Blue Dog Democrats most certainly – would have seriously considered him.

    Contrast with the GOP in 2000. We had a couple of genuine conservatives on offer – Steve Forbes, my preference, for instance – but chose the rather more centrist Bush instead. And won. The country is center-right, the Democrats’ core voters are just off the rails.

  2. James Joyner says:

    There’s something to that, but turnout is such a big issue, too. Nader’s vote would have gone way up with a Lieberman ticket.

  3. Tom Royce says:

    The reason that the tax the rich issue never gains any traction, is that the fluidity of earnings in this country lets almost everyone think they have the chance to be rich someday. It is a great thing about America.

  4. Ron says:

    As far as Kerry not responding: does he have the funds to respond? OpenSecrets says they’re updated to Jan 31, but the picture is ugly for Kerry then.

    I still think the Dem candidates spent too much time pounding Bush and not enough pounding each other. Kerry never really had to distinguish himself from the other candidates; and he was never really attacked, so his weaknesses were unexplored. He’s a virtual unknown to the Dems.

  5. Delta Dave says:

    I have said many times I don’t believe the country is “divided” as the democrats alledge. I think its more likely that the liberals are marginalized.

    By having “anger” as their core impetus, they have been able to generate a loud noise. But anger consumes a lot of energy and cannot be maintained indefinitely at a high energy level.

    What we are now seeing is the waning of “anger”-based energy…and once exhausted will next to impossible to rekindle to any significant intensity. What we see now in many cases are folks merely going through the motions of supporting kerry… but the fire is banked.

  6. Jeremy in SC says:

    Wes Clark would have beaten Bush, especially now that his criticisms — that Bush didn’t do enough to prevent 9/11 and he got distracted by Iraq — are being supported by White House defectors like the former counterterrorism chief (Clarke).

    Paul O’Neill, David Kay, Karen Kwiatkowski, Richard Clarke, Rand Beers, Joe Wilson.

    Who’s next?

  7. Mickey Mouse?