Bush's second term
By Bruce Walker
Does it seem a bit premature to talk about President Bush's second term?
There are compelling reasons for believing George W. Bush will win comfortably
in 2004, and the contemplation of this probability should make Tom Daschle
and Dick Gephardt very cautious before engaging our new President in political
President Bush will easily win the Republican Nomination in 2004. The
depth of his conservatism is hard to measure now, but the sincerity of
it is easy to see. No conservatives will doubt his integrity either, which
was a powerful reason for the anemic showing of third party conservative
candidates in 2000: We wanted an honest man in the White House. In addition
to being a real conservative and an honest man, he is quite likeable.
The hidden divisions within the Democrat Party will help insure a Bush victory. Clinton so owned the Democrats over the last eight years, that they are rudderless without him. Democrats may well rally around Hillary Clinton, although she brings intensely negative reactions and serious doubts about her integrity. It is hard to imagine her carrying any state that Al Gore lost, and states she would probably lose "fly-over" states like Iowa, Wisconsin, and New Mexico that Gore carried.
Moreover, many Democrats are quite sick of Clinton and his entourage, who have not only cost them power at every level of government, but also failed to really do much of anything besides denying Republicans policy victories and poisoning wells. It is more likely that John Kerry, Bob Kerrey, Evan Bayh, or Grey Davis will win the nomination. But not without a fight. Unless Hillary or Gore are anointed, the other Democrats will fight hard for their time in the sun. Blood, money, and good will are the expenses of bruising, open primary battles.
Even if the battle is a shoulder to shoulder contest between Bush/Cheney and, say, Davis/Kerry, Democrats draw false hope if they believe that the Election 2000 results show that the absence of Ralph Nader will grant them a good chance at victory. If Pat Buchanan had not run last November, then Bush would have gotten a plurality of the vote, and carried four states - Iowa, Wisconsin, New Mexico, and Oregon - which would have made Florida irrelevant.
The plain fact is that, except for FDR and LBJ, Democrats have not been popular in presidential elections. Indeed, only those two Democrats since the end of the Civil War have won the Presidency with a majority of all the ballots cast (Carter did not get a majority of all ballots in 1976). When Democrats have won the Presidency, it has almost always reflected strong divisions within the Republican Party, not the strength of Democrat candidates.
Another edge that President Bush clearly has is an understanding of his enemies. He does not expect liberals to treat him fairly or the establishment media to cover him honestly. Like most conservatives today, he understands that the dinosaurs of liberal orthodoxy may be big, but they are slow-witted and near-sighted. He has many ways to get out his message, and he will outflank and outmaneuver the geriatric scolds of the left with ease that will frustrate them into tantrums.
When all else failed during the Reagan and Bush administrations, Democrats invented the "sleaze" factor: An unanswerable insinuation of dishonesty. It never really stuck on either of those very decent men, but Democrats dare not even raise the issue in the wake of Clintonian sludge. No "independent counsel" Jihads. No congressional witch hunts.
It is not so much that Bush need fear any damage to himself, as it is that any Democrat who seriously complains about ethics will look absolutely ridiculous. Absent a grand mea culpa by the Democrats for the debauchery of the last eight years, conservatives will not trust that party for a long, long time, and will as long as Republicans nominate honest men - George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, and Gerald Ford all easily fit the bill - conservatives will stick with them.
Bush would win by a bigger margin in 2004 simply by carrying the same states as in 2000, but if the President can carry California, the election will be an academic exercise anyway. His easy charm, combined with the Presidency, will give him four years to allow Californians to cozy up to President Bush. Many of his converts will be middle class Mexican voters.
His intense effort to court Mexican voters, along with a new and popular Mexican President who will be fast friends with his American counterpart make the Mexican vote very winnable for Bush. It is almost a cliche to speak of his Mexican sister-in-law and his tenure as Governor of Texas, which shares a long border and many interests with Mexico, but the cliche is true: George W. Bush can relate to Mexicans better than any president in American history.
Can anything stop this guy? Probably not. Vice President Cheney and his cabinet selections are exceptionally good - perhaps the best cabinet in history. Republicans are the majority party in state governments as well as the federal government, and his work with Republican Governors has given him outstanding rapport within the Republican Party.
Perhaps most importantly, we all seem prone to underestimate this man. McCain was going to knock him out. Then some smartalecky reporter was going to "trip him up." Gore was going to pummel him in the debate. He would let the Democrats steal the election in Florida. At every single point, President Bush has done better than expected, and at every point his enemies have underestimated his determination, his charm, his brains, and his grit.
We all love Ronald Reagan, and we have been pining for another Gipper for more than a decade. President Bush is not Ronald Reagan, or even much like him in operation. But he is very much like another great President from another political party. We Republicans have found at last our FDR - and like that great, disarming liberal, our great, disarming conservative will change things forever.
It is perhaps fitting that at this point our nation appears to evenly divided, appears to be so closely split, appears to be so schizophrenic. It is a fitting appearance, because it is so utterly wrong. After discovering the depths to which our Republic can sink, we are about to discover the heights to which it can soar. Rhetoric? Yes, in a way, but very true - nothing will ever be the same again.
Bruce Walker is a frequent contributor to The Pragmatist and The Common
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