Punching The Pillow

Dick Morris lays out why he thinks Kerry is headed towards a resounding defeat in this election regardless of the debates:

Begin with Kerry’s decision to focus on the war in Iraq as his key issue. In the most recent ABC News poll, voters say, 53-38, that President Bush is better than Kerry at handling the problems in Iraq. So why would the Massachusetts Democrat choose to focus his case on an area where Bush has a lead? Why not go after issues where the Democrat has an innate advantage instead? And Bush’s lead on Iraq is nothing compared to his almost 40-point lead on fighting terror.

Winston Churchill once compared engaging Japan in a land war in Asia to “going into the water to fight the shark,” yet that is precisely what Kerry is doing by engaging Bush on his strongest suit.

Since most of Kerry’s support comes from his supposed superiority on domestic issues, his base is sharply divided on the war in Iraq, with slightly more than half taking an antiwar position while about one-third back the engagement and think it is integral to the war on terror (Scott Rasmussen’s data). By coming down on the left side of the issue, Kerry will drive his voters into Bush’s arms.

Kerry has been maneuvered into this no-win positioning by the pressure from Bush attacking him as weak and vacillating. The windsurfing ad, devastatingly effective, forces Kerry to take strong positions just for the sake of showing he is not weak.

But he doesn’t have to take the wrong ones! He could use domestic policy to show his strength. By charging into the middle of the Iraq war, predicating his campaign on it, he is making an error of almost unbelievable proportions.

I think Morris is exactly right here. The GOP base is resoundingly pro-war. The Democratic base is mostly anti-war, but there are a lot of pro-war Democrats – think the Joe Lieberman wing of the party. No matter what Kerry says he will alienate a fraction of his party on the issue of Iraq. As Morris notes, Bush has a double-digit lead on the issue of the war to begin with. Kerry is assuming (and in this he’s correct) that in order to win he has to knock down Bush numbers on the war.

The problem with that is that no dove candidate has ever won the Presidency in a time of war. In the midst of Vietnam, when body bags were flying in by the hundreds and the situation was far worse than Iraq is now by an order of magnitude, Richard Nixon still beat the living tar out of his dovish Democratic opponent. In every wartime election, the hawkish candidate always wins.

And John Kerry decided that he’s going to run on the anti-war platform. He’s going to try to convince us all that Bush “lied” and “misled” us into war. The problem is that while the radical Democratic anti-war base believes that, nobody else does. To borrow a phrase, this issue does not play well in Peoria. If people don’t believe the hysterical screams of “Bush lied!” now, a speech by Kerry won’t do it. We’ve already heard this line ten million times before. Having Kerry say it now isn’t going to change anyone’s position on the war.

Especially not when the war has already happened and Kerry has no plan for winning other than surrender. Kerry claims that he would prosecute the war “better” than Bush would. How? By bringing in foreign troops? Troops from where? How many? At what cost?

Kerry doesn’t have answers to those questions, and Bush can very easily paint him into a corner. While Kerry is indeed a very good debater, he’s a very good technical debater. I’d probably get my ass handed to me in a parliamentary or policy round if I ever went up against him. But a presidential debate is not a round of high school or college policy debate. The voters don’t want a load of contradictory “nuance.” They want real leadership, they want a leader who will say “this is what I stand for and I will stand by it.” On that account, Kerry has been an utter failure.

Bush’s tendency to speak in short, declarative, sentences and his sense of supreme confidence and steadfastness appeals to American voters in the way that Kerry’s Senatorial wonkishness does not. People want a plan, not a bunch of accusations and innuendos. Kerry has three options: go pro war and alienate the base (which may end up being the wisest course for him if he wants to peel off Bush’s support base), go anti-war and lose everyone but the anti-war left, or vacillate some more and confirm Bush’s label of “flip-flopper”. Kerry appears to be headed towards the second option, which is why all the sophistry in the world won’t help him.

To borrow from Cicero, Kerry has the oratio part down, but at the end of the day his ratio is severely lacking. In order to stake out the anti-war position Kerry has to say that the world is better off with Saddam Hussein in power. Making that argument would be disastrous for Kerry – the Democrats can’t seem to help but attack Bush on national security, which is why the Democrats remain clueless as to the real disposition of this country on the most key issue of this election.

2 thoughts on “Punching The Pillow

  1. Pingback: Shot In The Dark
  2. While a small numbers of Democrats likely remain pro-war, I don’t believe there’s too many of them who feel Bush has handled the war well. Kerry would really have to hit below the belt to alienate pro-war Democrats. As much as you try to spin it, a majority of Americans think Iraq was a mistake, and a rundown of the troop allocation numbers in Iraq and Afghanistan alone would be a devastating blow to Bush’s credibility on both Iraq and the War on Terrorism. Unless the “radical anti-war left” now constitutes 51% of the population, Bush has more than the left to fear. Kerry will be smart enough to avoid language of “having been better off with Saddam Hussein in power” (even though it has the sad luxury of being true) and even if Bush tries to bait him with that question, Kerry will have a sound response, or at least he better if he’s been prepping for this debate at all.

    Amusing to see the right embrace Dick Morris again now that he’s no longer aligned with the Clinton administration. One good punch tonight and it’s game over for either Bush or Kerry given that neither man is perceived as particularly impressive outside their base.

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