The Comeback Prez

Bill Safire calls George W. Bush “The Comeback Prez” and proclaims him in the driver’s seat for this campaign.

All that sustained thumb-sucking you heard about this being a polarized electorate, with only a tiny sliver of undecideds, has just ended with a loud pop. Polls that showed John Kerry ahead by a few points going into his convention a month ago now show President Bush up 11 points. That means the old “swing vote” still swings and the battle for voters is in the political center.

The Labor Day Bush trend (which could, by the nature of swing voting, be reversible) has Democratic politicians between dismay and panic. As usual, they are crying foul at a veterans group’s answer to Kerry’s blunder of running on his Vietnam war and anti-war record. As insiders shake up the staff, outsiders pre-emptively lay the basis for post-election excuses, positioning themselves for embittered told-you-so’s.

Safire notes that bad economic news, an October terrorist attack, or a particularly poor performance could still cause this election to swing back in the other direction. But he believes Bush has several advantages:

But the Republicans coming out of their New York success – with a personally popular candidate, a much deeper surrogate bench, the momentum of an upbeat message and a clearly centrist appeal – have good reasons to have faith in the November decision of today’s legion of swing voters.

And, of course, there is always the potential that good economic news, positive developments in Iraq or the battle against al Qaeda, or a Gore-like debate performance by Kerry will cause the race to blow wide open.

Meanwhile, Bob Novak argues that “Bush’s real advantage is Kerry.”

The soaring confidence that George W. Bush’s political team takes into the final weeks of the campaign stems from more than belief its candidate is vastly underestimated. President Bush’s advisers cannot believe their good fortune of how badly John Kerry and his campaign have performed the last month. What’s more, that assessment is shared by many Democrats outside the Kerry campaign.

The big strategic blunder of the Kerry campaign was to pin so much of their hope on Vietnam. It was an obvious loser, frankly. In the last three elections, the candidate with the more impressive military record lost. Indeed, Bill Clinton may have forever inoculated candidates without military service from charges of unfitness to serve as Commander-in-Chief.

More important than any decision made by the campaign however, is Kerry himself. He’s looking more every day like the second coming of Al Gore. Both are smart, serious men with solid resumes who, for whatever reason, just doesn’t seem comfortable in their own skin. Both have a penchant for prevarication. Both too often come across as condescending and thinking they’re the smartest guy in the room. Both are too thin skinned for presidential politics and overreact when they are attacked. The first Al Gore lost an election that any conceivable Democratic candidate but him would have won. The second one appears on the same path.

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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 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. bryan says:

    “a Gore-like debate performance by Kerry” is not merely a possibility, but I’d say a probability. What’s worse for the Dems, Kerry could have a “Dean Moment” during the debates where he explodes over the Swift Boat Vets, all the while, Bush lays low and plays the upbeat card.

  2. JIm says:

    About Robert Novak, as I was reading the Washington Post something struck me about the letters (a fair sampling ;). Of 10 letters: 7 bahed Bush or the Republican Party; 2 were critical of the republicans and one was about Pet Allergies. Fair and Balanced?