Fred Barnes has a good piece in The Weekly Standard on the obstacles Bush will face in order to get reelected in 2004. Certianly Bush’s re-election is no fait accompli, but a lot of it depends on his Democratic competitor. A Howard Dean will pull the Democratic vote, but will be unable to make significant inroads into crucial swing vote. The same applies to Gephardt, who is looking to be the likely number 2 in the Democratic race now that Clark and Kerry are both watching their campaigns sink in the polls and fall apart.
Bush can thank the timing of the economic recovery. After all the talk about a “jobless recovery” nearly 200,000 jobs have been created in recent months. The 7.2% level of economic growth this summer is directly connected to the Bush tax cuts which supercharged economic growth. That growth will likely continue into November of 2004 unless there is a major setback like another terrorist attack or a major corporate scandal on the order of Enron or Global Crossing. This almost insulates Bush on the economy. However, his unwillness to check Congress’ profligate spending habits introduce a major political liability for the President. Federal spending is at an unacceptable level, and conservatives are faulting the Bush Administration. Democrats are also ironically painting themselves as budget hawks (even though such a position is patently ridiculous as all the Democrats have said that they would spend even more than Bush on nearly every problem), which may help them shake their liberal image.
The biggest problem is Iraq. If Bush pulls significant amount of troops out of the country in June, he’s toast. There are a lot of voters who are voting for Bush specifically for his handling on the war on terror. If Bush surrenders to the will of the Ba’athists and allows Iraq to burn, he will lose that vote and he will lose the election. Bush would be better off increasing the number of troops in Iraq, and boldly attacking the insurgents before they attack us. We have got to go on the offensive in Iraq, and if granting sovereignty allows us to do that, then that’s what should be done.
The American people can stand far more casualties than the opposition believes. What the American people cannot stand is failure. The Administration’s Iraq policy isn’t failing as a whole quite yet, but the security situation is simply unacceptable. The Bush Administration clearly “misunderestimated” the resistance from the Ba’athists and foreign fighters. We went on the offensive months too late, and we’re stretching our forces too thin in Iraq and elsewhere. This means that the Bush Administration has to make the hard choice of more troops in an offensive posture capturing and killing militants wherever they hide. Saddam Hussein’s head should be mounted on a pike in the middle of Baghdad as soon as possible. The US should start broadcasting messages in Arabic with images of dead militants warning anyone else that the price of attacking the Iraqi people is certain death.
These steps can help the Bush Administration deal with the Iraq issue. Unless we pull a Mogadishu in Iraq, it’s clear that eventually we’ll get Hussein and if we continue to go on the offensive the security situation can only get better. The militants in Iraq aren’t holding back, they’re hitting us with everything they have. They’re getting better at it, which is troubling, but they’re not some invincible fighting force, and they don’t have the support of the Iraqi people.
Bush may not be a not be a shoo-in, and Iraq will be a major problem for him. However, it doesn’t look at all like Bush is going to push back from Iraq. Given that the Democrats have all swung to the hard left following Dean in the primaries, the Democrats are going to enter the general election in a weakened position. The convention may be exceptionally acrimonous, and there’s a chance of a major schism in the Democratic Party between the Clinton loyalists and the Dean supporters. The Democrats have no plan other than attacking Bush, which is insufficient to win a national election. They have candidates who are uninspiring and petty.
While Bush can’t rest on his laurels, it’s his election to lose. If he continues to do what he has his chances are good.