Unfortunately, I was travelling when Bush appeared on Meet The Press, so I’ve only seen bits and pieces of the interview.
From what I have seen, his appearance can only be described as “adequate.”
Bush said what he needed to say, and he was affable, but he needed to do more. He dodged the spending question, which is turning into his Achilles Heel with conservative voters. His answers were good enough, but just barely. Before he could have gotten away with this. Now, he’s starting to get in trouble.
When you’re a conservative and even National Review is panning your performance, you know something is wrong. I don’t think this will sink Bush, and his performance probably didn’t help or hurt him (the average voter doesn’t watch Meet The Press nor will they remember this interview in November). However, if this is the way Bush will approach this election, he’s sunk. Kerry is going to lose his luster quickly once the media honeymoon ends, but Bush cannot rest on his laurels. There are times when it’s okay to be laid back in an interview. This was not one of them. No smart politician believes in the concept of an easy election. Every election is a close election, and this is doubly true in this divided country. Bush does not have the luxury of complacency, and what I saw was a man who had a message but couldn’t elucidate it in any substantial way.
I think this election will be close. Kerry has little going for him other than the perception of "electability" – a perception which is more a function of appearances than substance. However, Bush is alienating his base at the wrong time and isn’t being nearly forceful enough against his critics. Politics is as much the art of perception and persuasion as it is about policy, and the perception Bush gave today was not nearly strong enough.