David Broder believes public confidence in President Bush’s leadership is his most valuable asset:

It appears that 9/11 did for Bush what the assassination attempt that Ronald Reagan survived and almost laughed off did for his reputation, barely two months into his presidency in 1981. That event formed an indelible impression of Reagan in the minds of millions of voters and gave him an almost mythic dimension that withstood recession, scandal and controversy.

Almost everything Bush has done since becoming president has been designed to create a similar sense of steadfastness. His pursuit of adversaries in Afghanistan and Iraq is of a piece with his persistence in pressing for passage of big tax cuts and confirmation of conservative judges here at home.

Implicitly, he also seems to be saying he is a different breed of cat than his father, who had to fight “the wimp factor” as a candidate in 1988 and was savaged by many in his own party in 1992 for allegedly caving in to the Democrats on taxes.

Today’s Democrats are pounding on the second George Bush, as befits an opposition party. His economic policies provide plenty of ammunition for the assault Kennedy outlined on his chart.

But there is little the Democrats can do to shatter the reputation for strong leadership Bush has built, and not much their presidential candidates can do to win equal reputations for themselves. McInturff is probably right that the winner of the Democratic contest will — simply by virtue of winning — gain stature. But it seems to me unlikely that anyone in the field will close the leadership gap simply by gaining more votes than others in New Hampshire or South Carolina or Arizona.

Democrats may challenge Bush on the issues, but it will be tough to topple him from his leadership pinnacle.

If the economy doesn’t recover more robustly between now and next fall, that will be the only thing that gives him a chance for re-election. I’m hoping the combination of his gravitas–ironic, given the debate during the last campaign on his lack of same–compared to that of his Democrat challenger will be enough to carry him.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. PoliBlogger says:

    I concur. Further, I think it will take not just the lack of full-blown recovery, but a true tanking of the economy, for that issue to be the main topic in 2004. I think that national security will be the main issue.