by Gary North
Al Gore lost in 2000 because of the approximately 22,000 voters in New Hampshire who voted for Ralph Nader. Bush won New Hampshire by about 7,000 votes. Those four electoral votes were his margin of victory. I have heard no one argue that if Nader had not run, fewer than 15,000 of Nader's voters would have voted for Gore.
The Republicans did not steal the election in Florida. They and the Supreme Court merely kept the networks' TV anchorpersons from having stolen it when they announced the results of Florida's exit polls — Gore has won! — as soon as the polls in Miami closed, conveniently overlooking the fact that western Florida, which was Bush country, was still voting because it was on Central Standard Time. A sufficient number of Bush's supporters there gave up and didn't go to the polls, so the election was close enough to be contested.
Hardly anyone remembers either of these crucial aspects of the 2000 Presidential election.
The Democrats blame Republican chicanery for their loss. They do not publicly blame Nader, who was the real culprit. This resentment against Bush has inserted an element of revenge into the next campaign. Never underestimate revenge as a political motivation. Keeping "them" out is every bit as powerful a political motive as getting "us" in. Given the level of voter commitment generated by Presidential candidates since Reagan, "accentuate the negative" is today the strongest underlying motivation for electoral victory. "Stick it to them!"
The Democrats will not win the election in 2004. Bush will have to lose it. I think he will. Here's why. Most people don't want to vote for a loser, even if they vote secretly. This is why western Florida's Republicans did not go to the polls in full strength in the final hour of the election. Instead of thinking, "I'm going to go to the polls and vote for the right man, no matter what," they stayed home to watch the election results.
FALLING PUBLIC OPINION NUMBERS
Bush has squandered unprecedented worldwide support for America after September 11. He can surely squander Republican voter support between now and 2004. I am confident that he will do so. His ratings as a wartime President will fall, short of a major terrorist attack on American soil.
Bush is at the high point now. He can only fall from here. The war is just about over. The mess of post-war Iraq will get enough TV air time so that the embedded journalists will report bad news. Bad news sells except in wartime. The bad news has only just begun.
The economic costs of reconstructing Iraq will keep rising. Democrats will get to complain publicly about cronyism in awarding the contracts. This has already begun.
As Bush's numbers fall, support from Republicans on the fringes of the Republican Party will falter. These are marginal supporters, to be sure. Call them "western Floridians." But in a closely divided electorate, their votes are crucial.
Why will Bush's numbers fall? I suggest the following:
The American economy will not recover.
The stock market will not recover, and it may get worse.
The U.S. budget deficit will get much worse.
The foreign trade deficit will not improve.
Bush will be perceived as having no solutions to the economy.
A wartime President must not end the war more than a year before the election.
Because the Republicans control both houses of Congress, the Democrats will be able to escape blame for the rotten economy. They will play "pin the tail on the elephant." Politics is mostly blame-shifting anyway. Bush enjoys a majority in both houses. Only Eisenhower had that advantage in the post-Hoover era, and only in the first half of his first term.
BUSH IS BORING
Admittedly, Al Gore was even more boring. But Gore is gone. Bush is a poor public speaker. Only the adrenaline of terrorism and war raised his speeches to the level of mediocre. This adrenaline rush actually put together his syntax. But unless there is a major terrorist attack on America between now and the election, Bush will appear to be Johnny One-Note, which in fact he is. That one note is sounding shrill, especially in the absence of (1) Osama bin Laden, (2) an extensive Iraq/al-Qaeda connection, (3) Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, (4) any further terrorist attacks.
Bush is unable to rouse even a glimmer of crowd enthusiasm when he speaks on any other issues. This is why he rarely speaks on any other issues. But the public has a short attention span. Iraq can be made interesting for only so long.
At some point, probably before mid-summer, Nielsen ratings for news programs on Iraq will decline. At that point, the media will shift to other stories, and none of them will be good for Bush. The economy will become the focus of prime-time attention. Viewers will watch. Misery loves company.
The media are statist. The teleprompter writers and the journalists will feature stories on corporate greed, crony capitalism, unemployed families, and jobs lost to foreign markets. All of this will be true, as far as it goes. We live in a mixed economy. But the media always blame the remnants of the free market, not political control over the market, for whatever ails the economy.
Bush will not respond effectively to these criticisms. He will probably not even try. He is no Ronald Reagan, who survived the sharpest economic downturn in the American economy since 1931. Reagan talked his way out of it, and he was fortunate enough in 1981 to get Congress to cut marginal tax rates. The economy had recovered by the 1984 election.
VERBAL ATTACKS ARE INTERESTING
I do not know or care how many Democrats are presently running for President, but the number approaches 1960's campaigns. The candidates will all be on the attack. Their specific proposed solutions will be drowned out by the noise produced by the others. What will come through is the message that the economy is faltering, and the Republicans are in power. Both messages are true. The conclusion — it's the Republicans' fault — is standard fare in an election year. Half the electorate feels cheated by the 2000 election. This means that they will applaud any and all attacks. They will expect a response from Bush, but Bush on any issue other than terrorism or war is an armadillo: a rhetorical Texas speed bump. The Democrats might as well read him his Miranda rights immediately: anything he says will be held against him. So will the way he says it.
Bush does not do well on defense. Reagan was a master on defense. "There you go again" torpedoed more attacks on him than I can recall. But Bush gets visibly cranky. He will spend most of 2004 being cranky. Americans don't like crankiness in their Presidents. Democrats like what Harry Truman dished out in 1948. Even though Truman was President, he successfully positioned himself as the victim of the Republicans. He won, and the Democrats recaptured Congress.
Bush today is in a position of strength. He will not be able to position himself as a victim unless some terrorist takes a shot at him. Therefore, when it comes to verbal attacks, Bush in 2004 will be the dished, not the disher. I can hear it now. "Are you dishing me?" he challenges his opponents. "You got it, frat boy!"
Democrats will run on the slogan of balanced budgets. This will be like watching a dancing bear. The poor creature does not do it well, but it does it.
They will "hold the line" on further tax cuts. Bush may even attempt to Laffer-curve his way out of it, but nobody will buy it. The deficits are heading to Mars, having already passed the moon. We forget that Reagan raised taxes: Social Security (1983) and TEFRA (1986). That kept the deficit to under $300 billion a year, barely. In 1981, the national debt was $785 billion. When he left, it was over $2 trillion.
Bush will run his campaign with the Federal Reserve having shot its normal pre-election year wad. The FED cut interest rates in 2001. It has no other rabbit in its hat.
Bush's tax cuts were minimal. They will be blamed for the deficit. The Democrats have no solution to the economy, but they don't have to have one. Politics is about revenge, blame-shifting, and "hail, Mary" passes. Like Nixon's vague promise in 1968 of his plan to get us out of Vietnam, all it takes is a painful, unsolved problem to persuade voters that there may be an escape by voting for the guy who is out of office. They prefer not to stick with the devil they know.
"ARE YOU BETTER OFF TODAY?"
Reagan won in 1980 with his phrase, "Are you better off today than you were in 1976?" People knew they weren't. Basically, that was how Clinton won in 1992. Any Democrat worth his salt will use some variation of this refrain in 2004.
There is little likelihood that Bush will be able to respond plausibly, "The recovery is just around the corner." If he does, he will be accused of imitating Herbert Hoover. "Show us the corner!"
Bush's team supposedly plans to spend two hundred million dollars to get him re-elected. That will buy a lot of TV air time. The media are powerful. But this level of spending could backfire. "The Republican fat cats are trying to buy the election!"
The Republicans plan to hold their nominating convention in September — very late. That will give the Democrats' candidate two months to rise in the polls, after the Party's faithful come together behind their candidate after the convention.
Daschle would have had a good shot at the nomination and the office, but he officially bowed out in January. I have no idea who will get the nomination. That grating sound you hear is the Democrats scraping the bottom of the barrel. But the multiple campaigns will focus on what's wrong with the economy. That message will get through. "It's the economy, stupid."
Never underestimate the revenge factor. Millions of voters want to get even, and they will go to the polls to do it. Whether Republicans will be equally committed to get to the polls is doubtful. "We won fair and square!" doesn't make the blood run as hot as "You thieves!"
If the weapons inspectors in Iraq do not discover large supplies of usable weapons of mass destruction, the Democrats will be able to pillory Bush for having relied on such poor intelligence (the spying kind, I mean).
Meanwhile, month by month, Kim Jong-il will continue to twist Bush's tail. "I've got nukes, I've got nukes. Nyah, nyah, nyah." That little man, unlike Saddam, is ready to push the button if challenged. Bush knows this. Kim knows that Bush knows this. If Bush does nothing about Kim, he risks becoming viewed retroactively as a bully for beating up Saddam, who had no nukes. The Democrats need not reveal what they would do about North Korea, any more than Eisenhower in 1952 had to say what he would do. "I shall go to Korea," he said, and won. But all he got was a cease-fire, never a peace treaty. That is all any President ever got.
How many Republicans will stay home in 2004 out of a sense of embarrassment for having been fooled by the Administration's claims that America invaded Iraq in order to stop Iraq's extensive support of al-Qaeda (unproven) and destroy Saddam's weapons of mass destruction (unproven)? A lot more than Democrats who will stay home because they really aren't interested in revenge.
If I were a Democrat, I would know which tunes to sing in 2004.
"Recover the stolen White House!" "Are you better off today than in 2000?" "Crony capitalism!" "No weapons of mass destruction after all." "Give diplomacy a chance." "Rebuild America's infrastructure, too." "Read our lips: No more tax cuts!"
Republicans in private will murmur, though never say in public, "That slant-eyed shrimp is making us look bad." This is the problem that every gunfighter faces, and every nation that adopts the way of the gunfighter. "I'm calling you out, Ringo!" Here it comes again.
But this challenger has nukes, or will have them soon. Then he will build even more nukes. If Bush orders a pre-emptive strike on North Korea, Kim will probably invade South Korea. That would take out the South Korean economy and bring down its banks. "How you like these options, almond eyes?" Meanwhile, our troops are in Iraq.
Bush will have to grin and bear it. The public's perception of Bush as a man of action will be undermined by a guy who wears elevator shoes and a bouffant hairdo.
Bush had better pray that Ralph Nader runs an even more successful campaign in 2004. He needs it.
April 28, 2003
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