Pat Buchanan, himself a three-time presidential candidate, has an insightful article in the latest issue of Atlantic Monthly magazine on the question of whether or not President George W. Bush can be defeated in 2004. Buchanan, it would seem, would not shed many tears if Bush did go down, as he regards this president as Center/Left, having co-opted most of the ideas pushed by the Democrats.
He does concede that defeating Bush will not be easy. If the economy is still in the tank, the president will be vulnerable. Any president would be in that situation. The good news for Bush is that economic indicators are up. However, manufacturing and even white-collar jobs are being exported overseas in droves. Bush thus far has not addressed the problem, nor is he likely to address it. Bush is, at heart, a free trader. As such, he doesn’t worry about jobs being exported because free traders believe the benefits to the American consumer outweigh the disruption to communities when factories shut down.
Up until recently, that may have worked. That’s because many factory workers, with re-training, were able to get equally high paying jobs in the high tech sector. Now that those jobs are being exported too, it is another matter. Where do those Americans go to find decent work? The tax cuts are supposed to help create new jobs and indeed there is an indication that they are beginning to do so. Unemployment and under-employment are likely to be problems for this president, if the new jobs created don’t make up for the jobs being exported.
Things could unravel in Afghanistan or Iraq. It is hard to tell what is really going on over there. The news media, for the most part, are acutely biased against the administration, so they highlight every negative story they can find. Some stories may be manufactured. After all, they have done it in other places. Friends of mine who have returned from spending some weeks in Iraq tell me more progress is being made than is being reported.
Afghanistan is another story. Kabul is fairly stable, but if one travels outside the capital, unfriendly forces of all sorts are still in charge. If a serviceman or two or three is killed each day in Iraq and Afghanistan, between now and Election Day, more than a year away, it is hard to calculate how it will translate politically.
There is always the possibility that fourth generation warfare would cause things to completely unravel in Iraq. We already know that some of the daily killing of our servicemen in Iraq is due to Moslem extremists who get into Iraq from Syria and Iran. No doubt we could handle that problem temporarily if we had another 100,000 troops in Iraq. That is not going to happen. Given the fact that our troops are not prepared for fourth generation warfare, it is possible that such an unraveling would take place. More likely is the possibility that our military will have things reasonably under control through the elections. I would be surprised if Iraq becomes an issue with traction.
The heart of Buchanan’s piece is that Bush thus far has prevented a challenge from the Right. Bush’s father ignored his core constituency and broke his only real promise to the American people during the 1988 campaign. No new taxes.
Buchanan doesn’t quite understand it, but Bush is liked, indeed even in some quarters loved, by the Right. He is loved because for every concession to Sen. Ted Kennedy, there is a new round of tax cuts. For every prescription drug proposal, there is the decision to exempt the USA from the Kyoto treaty. For what many on the right consider a mistake, that is intervention in Iraq and elsewhere, there is the commitment to a robust missile defense system.
Then there are the social issues. Bush has been quite faithful on the social issues. In truth, he has deviated less from conservative orthodoxy on the social issues than he has from orthodox economic conservatism, or from orthodox conservative foreign policy. The reason is one that most political pundits find hard to accept. There is a simple explanation for Bush’s general adherence to social conservative orthodoxy. He is a religious man. He puts his religious views into practice. He is being faithful to his own conscience when he sides with social conservatives. He is not doing so because Karl Rove showed him a poll. In fact, the quickest way to earn disfavor with this president is to suggest that he take an action because the polls are favorable.
Most pundits find this explanation hard to accept because they believe any move on the part of any political figure has to be some sort of cynical ploy to get votes. They themselves are cynical. That’s how they think, so they attribute that kind of cynicism to everyone else. Only God knows what is in a person’s heart, but I would be shocked to learn that Bush is anything but a believer whose faith compels him to be on the right side of social issues.
Buchanan is himself a strong believer, so he should understand that. He bolted from the Republican Party for the Reform Party in 2000. Since then, he has been removed from Republican politics and he doesn’t comprehend the strong feelings for Bush among social conservatives. Four million evangelical voters stayed away from the 2000 elections, largely because of last-minute reports about Bush’s drunk driving charge and what they perceived as a cover-up by the candidate. By the 2002 mid-term elections, those problems and perceptions were put to rest, and half of those voters came back. They helped Bush give Republicans their first mid-term election victory in 100 years. Unless Bush does something terribly out of character, there is not going to be a challenge to the president from the Right.
Buchanan contends that had Ralph Nader not been a candidate in 2000, Al Gore would almost certainly be president today. He also suggests that if the Democrats could prevent a serious third party candidacy, their chances of defeating Bush would improve, especially if this turns out to be a close election.
Even though the Left has improved its chances of nominating a left-of-center Democratic candidate, it appears as if Nader wants to run again. He has good name ID and has conducted himself well since the 2000 elections. He is working now to get into the debates of the presidential candidates. Should he manage to do so, he might well damage the Democratic candidate. Although his campaign is against both parties, his message resonates more with the Left than the Right.
Buchanan makes one point with which I completely agree. Lee Atwater was largely responsible for the 25-point turn around that the Republicans achieved following the Democratic convention and up to the election in 1988. Bush 41 went from being 17 points behind to being 8 points ahead. By 1992, Lee Atwater had died. There was no strategist like him to take his place. As a result, Bush ran a campaign almost designed to give Ross Perot 19% and Bill Clinton a sweep of the Electoral College.
This Bush has Karl Rove. Rove is one of the smartest, most able political strategists ever to have graced Republican circles. He is not about to let President Bush 43 make the strategic mistakes that President Bush 41 made in 1992.
Buchanan and I come to the same conclusion. Can Bush be defeated? Yes, it could happen. Is it likely? No. Certainly not with the “Never Mind Nine” who are currently running.
The 2004 election year should be interesting. It could even be dramatic. In the end it looks like Four More Years for the incumbent president.