Bob Novak notes that there is some real concern among some Bush advisors about the dynamics of a Bush-Kerry matchup for the general election.

”I can see the pucker factor,” said one GOP operative, using the military slang term for an attack of gut-clenching fear. What he implies is that he and his colleagues are confronting the possibility of another Bush becoming a one-term president. Predictably, Republicans reacted to Kerry’s success by pasting the liberal label on him. Why, then, the pucker factor?

First, because Kerry is an elusive target. Dukakis’ old running mate showed in the hours after he was declared the New Hampshire winner that he is no Dukakis. Second, because Bush may be facing the bane of incumbents: lack of credibility. That caused Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson not to seek another term and helped defeat Jimmy Carter and the senior George Bush for re-election.

All four of those one-term presidents were plagued by primary election opposition in their own party, a burden George W. Bush does not bear. Nevertheless, Bush is reeling from a double blow to his credibility.

Failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, a political accident waiting to happen, became the first punch last week when resigned weapons inspector David Kay testified to Congress. The follow-up blow was the White House revelation that the new Medicare plan will cost one-third more than the president predicted (just as conservatives warned).


Most worrisome to Republicans is Kerry’s war hero image while, in the words of one prominent Bush supporter, ”our guy was drinking beer in Alabama” (where actually he was working on a losing Senate Republican campaign in 1972).

It would be an interesting race. I still have a hard time seeing Kerry taking a single state in the South, which would make getting 270+ electoral votes difficult. But recent lapses have made the president more vulnerable than he seemed even a couple months ago.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2004
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. McGehee says:

    Novak is playing along with some classic pregame poor-mouthing. Kerry’s war record is already diluted by the fact he can’t say six words without “I served in Vietnam” being four of them.

  2. James Joyner says:

    I agree that Kerry’s constantly cloaking himself in his veteran status is rather boorish–I didn’t like it when McCain did it, either–but he seems to be suffering no ill consequences from it. And, compared to Bush’s war record, it’s fairly impressive.

  3. McGehee says:

    he seems to be suffering no ill consequences from it.

    So far. So far.

  4. RH says:

    Regarding Kerry’s service record, as this piece in NRO last week notes, (http://www.nationalreview.com/script/printpage.asp?ref=/owens/owens200401270825.asp)
    he has and will continue to benefit as a candidate from his distinguished service record in Vietnam. However, at least according to this article, Kerry may have something to answer for in terms of his anti-war activities, especially his apparent hand in founding and promoting some very disparaging myths about Vietnam Vets. I also wonder, and certainly other voters will as well, about how his about-face affects, if at all, his judgement in matters of sending armed forces into conflict. His difficulty in clearly stating his position on Iraq in one or two sentences may reflect his past.