February 2004
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Day February 25, 2004

Bush/Rove: fiendishly clever or losing their grip?

I haven’t written as much about the election itself lately because a lot of things are just brewing in the back of my mind, and I keep waiting for them to crystallize. That hasn’t happened yet. I’m missing something here. Here’s what the Administration has been doing lately, presumably with an eye towards the election:

  • Advocated a possible cut in Social Security benefits, or raising the mandatory retirement age. Granted, Greenspan did the talking, but since Alan didn’t mention the possibility of rescinding some of the tax cuts as an option, there is definitely the hand of the White House involved. Especially since Greenspan (according to Paul O’Neill) wasn’t necessarily a fan of the tax cuts in the first place.
  • Launched a public call for the Federal Marriage Amendment, enshrining discriminatory distinctions in the Constitution for the first time in our history.
  • Backed off publicly from their own economic forecasts and report, without providing a clear path to something else, and no clear answer on jobs, and a continuing parade of knowledgeable folks who say that the deficit is going to worse even than projected.
  • Still has no firm explanation for the June deadline to get out of Iraq, despite the fact that everyone else involved has said that elections aren’t possible, the country won’t yet be stable, and we won’t have created a democracy yet. Are we going to run out of money? Would it ruin some campaign event Bush has planned if we stay longer?

Well, there’s undoubtedly more, but it’s instructive to look at this list. If Bush and Rove are so fiendishly brilliant, who exactly are these actions designed to attract? Certainly not centrist or moderate Republicans – the FMA isn’t going to play well there, and the deficit and general bungling of economic policy will be a major stumbling block. And with an attack on Social Security when every other first-term incumbent president avoids the issue like the plague before their second-term inauguration risks problems from lobbies like the AARP, not to mention individual Americans who are counting on their benefits.
And even if the FMA was an attempt to court solid voting from the Religious Right, it may not work. Two reasons:

  1. Nobody likes a loser, as has been extensively pointed out in the last couple of days. Given the lack of super-majority support in Congress the FMA is likely to face, Rove has to be hoping that the thing won’t come to a vote any time soon. As soon as the FMA is dead in Congress, Bush takes a hit for supporting a failed amendment – from his foes but even more importantly, from the people who were counting on him to push it through.
  2. There’s a chunk of the Religious Right that thinks Bush is still too wishy-washy on the issue. Hard to believe, but I recommend you check out IntellectualConservative.com for some truly frightening material. In particular, check out Dr. Patrick Johnston’s article (or “screed”, depending upon your inclination) “Why Christians Should Not Vote for George W. Bush.”

So what’s the plan here? If we’re still operating under the assumption that Karl Rove is the modern-day avatar of Niccolo Machiavelli, then I’m waiting for the shoe to drop. Everything I’m seeing here looks like it’ll erode mainstream Republican support for Bush, leaving him a narrower and narrower constituency.

And given the molecularly-thin nature of his victory in 2000, wouldn’t you imagine that Bush will probably need every single Republican vote he can get, plus a sizeable share of independents? It’s way too early to conclude that optimism should be breaking out within Democratic circles, but thus far I’m not impressed by Bush’s early campaign moves.