Tonight, President Bush will have to make the speech of his political life. Most of what happens at a convention doesn’t matter unless something happens to go wrong. What does matter is how the candidate presents himself to the American people.
There are two words that President Bush doesn’t have to speak tonight – “John Kerry.” The last three nights have rhetorically beaten Kerry into a pulp, and right now Bush has no need to bring him up again. Now Bush has to paint his agenda for the country.
One thing Bush needs to do is raise the issue of the economy. Even though that remains Bush’s weakest issue, he can’t avoid it. I rather doubt he will. His “ownership society” rhetoric has been refined on the campaign trail over the last few weeks, and it’s quite likely we’ll be hearing a lot of it tonight. It’s a positive agenda that is based on conservative principles – similar to the “compassionate conservatism”of 2000. I think the Democratic fear-mongering on the economy is not hitting home as it should. Yes, some people are nervous, but most of them don’t blame Bush. Had Kerry hit on the economy more strongly in Boston Bush could be hurting right now – but since Kerry did not Bush has the opportunity to take some initiative on it.
It’s important that Bush articulate a vision. Kerry failed at this last month. His candidacy was based on his Vietnam service combined with the assumption that everyone hates Bush and wants a change. It didn’t work. Now Bush has to speak knowing that a lot of people are hesitant about his leadership and worried about the future. Zell Miller got the hellfire and brimestone out of the way. Now Bush’s speech has to be the Paradiso to Miller’s Inferno.
I have a feeling Bush has a very strong chance of pulling it off. He can’t afford an off night again. He has to show strength not only on terrorism and national defense, but on the economy and jobs as well. He has to reassure voters in his leadership. Kerry has left an opening for him to do so, now it’s up to the President to take it. He has a very lofty goal to achieve, but he has done this before.
President Bush is not a great orator – even his supporters admit it. However, he has the common touch that the patrician Kerry does not. He has the strength of his convictions that Kerry does not. He has an economic plan that will strengthen America, while Kerry does not. He has a sense of deep personal faith that Kerry does not. Without naming him specifically, Bush has an excellent opportunity to draw the distinction between himself and his opponent.
We’ll see if he can pull it off tonight.
UPDATE: Seems like Bush will be following that plan tonight…