A response to my previous post indicates that some elaboration is required. It’s certainly true that November 2004 is a long way away. And the case of Bush 41 certainly indicates that a president can win a war in Iraq and still lose the election 18 months later. A couple things are different though:
1. We are on semi-permanent war footing right now: the War on Terror and its successors, of which Iraq II was just one. During the latter stages of the Cold War, it was thought that the Republicans had a Ã¢€œlockÃ¢€ on the presidency because it was almost impossible for a Democrat to gain enough Electoral votes. From 1968 to 1988, a Democrat was only elected one time, Carter in 1976, and it took a lousy economy, the Watergate Scandal, Ford pardoning Nixon, and the fact that Carter was arguably more Ã¢€œconservativeÃ¢€ than Ford to make that happen. In an amazingly close election. I would contend that we are back in that mode again since 9/11. For a variety of reasons, some fair and some not, the public trusts Republicans much more than Democrats to handle matters of national security. That advantage didnÃ¢€™t matter in 1992, 1996, or even 2000 because the perception was that domestic policy was all that mattered. Democrats have an edge on domestic issues. That advantage matters much less now that security is on the front burner again.
2. This Bush is a much better politician than his dad. Frankly, his dad was more intelligent and had a much better resume. But Bush 41 had a political tin ear. He would have been a great Prime Minister, but was a mediocre president becasue he didn’t “get it” in terms of managing his image with the voters. See this, this, and this post for more elaboration.
Do I think Bush’s re-election is a done deal? Not at all. It is his to lose, though. My guess is the economy will improve, not because of tax cuts or any other Administration policy, but simply because we have a very powerful economic engine that will naturally renew itself. The good thing about business cycles is that the curve goes up again. But even if the economy is merely stagnant, as it is now, I don’t think that’s enough to tank Bush’s re-election chances unless he takes his eye off the ball. I don’t think any Democrat currently running can beat him–he has to beat himself to lose.