In my column today, I make the case that President Bush deserves credit for keeping America safe from terrorist attacks on U.S. soil for nearly seven years, and that John McCain would benefit from making this point regularly. While the conventional view is that McCain needs to run as far away from Bush as possible, the reality is that he’ll be associated with Bush anyway, so he should at least defend the successful aspects of Bush’s legacy.
While Bill Clinton was more popular than Bush, in 2000 Al Gore faced a similar problem to McCain, because there was “Clinton fatigue” and the administration was tainted by scandals. Gore decided to run away from Clinton, but this ended up backfiring in many ways. Bush was still able to gain traction for vowing to “restore dignity to the White House” because Gore became associated with all of the bad stuff, but Gore became disassociated with all of the positive aspects of the Clinton years, such as the strong economy.
McCain has a trickier task, to be sure, but I think there are some lessons from the Gore experience.
Also, I’d add that if McCain did forcefully defend the Bush Administration’s record on terrorism, it would help him energize conservatives.