Yet another intriguing article from the WSJ’s John Harwood, asking the question: Is Bush a Latter-Day Carter or Nixon? Each of these incumbents oversaw foreign policy “mishaps,” while facing economic issues:
“Ever since John Kerry emerged as George W. Bush’s challenger two months ago, polls have pointed toward another exceedingly close contest for president.
Yet the deeper America gets into this perplexing political year, the more campaign operatives are bracing for something different: a race that breaks decisively one way or the other. Eyeing different historic parallels, Democrats and Republicans envision competing models for a November rout that turns on the electorate’s judgment of the White House incumbent.
The question is: Will Mr. Bush become a latter-day version of Jimmy Carter, circa 1980? Or Richard Nixon, circa 1972?”
The parallels aren’t quite so neat. After Nixon’s re-election, he resigned in disgrace. As the wheels came of the wagon, an unholy host of corruption came into public view. Nixon’s acts have colored subsequent voter attitudes ever since.
As one politco said, “Events are in the saddle”:
“Increasingly, Democrats are feeling at home in the contours of the 1980 presidential campaign — with Mr. Bush playing the part of President Carter. As that year’s campaign wore on, voters who at first rallied around the Democratic incumbent began to see him as hapless and helpless as Iranian revolutionaries held U.S. hostages in Tehran.
Today, partisan adversaries see Mr. Bush as similarly helpless while Iraqi insurgents battle U.S. occupation troops in Baghdad. The burgeoning scandal over abuse of Iraqi prisoners has accelerated the erosion of public confidence in a way that clever campaign stratagems may prove unable to stop.
“Events are in the saddle,” says Paul Maslin, a Democratic pollster who worked on the Carter campaign that year. Six in 10 Americans in last week’s Wall Street Journal/NBC News polls said the situation in Iraq has slipped from U.S. control. More ominously for Mr. Bush, a 49% plurality declared he doesn’t deserve a second term.
Still, the lopsided 1980 election depended on more than just voters rejecting Mr. Carter. Deep into October 1980, Mr. Carter held a narrow lead in the polls by depicting Ronald Reagan as a mean-spirited, right-wing Hollywood actor.”
The one element unaccounted for in this analogy is what the electorate has learned since Viet Nam: Since that foreign excursion, the U.S. public is quite wary of wars of attrition on foreign soil. There is an appropriate caution when it comes to ill defined military adventures, especially those predicated on such shaky grounds. As we mentioned yesterday, a recent academic study found the administration used “27 different rationales for the war in Iraq.”
Thus, the incumbent is vulnerable. As Harwood makes clear, the odds favor the elction breaking strongly int he direction of one candidate or the other. The temptation to do “something big” to make the break go the candidate’s way — either candidate — is definitely there.
You are now officially on “October Surprise” watch . . .
Some Republicans see a resurgent economy lifting President Bush the way it did for Nixon in 1972, according to the WSJ; Democrats see the deteriorating situation in Iraq as parallel to Carter’s woes with the Iranian hostage crisis. Neither analogy is perfect.
Is Bush a Latter-Day Carter or Nixon?
CAPITAL JOURNAL: Democrats and Republicans Envision Competing Models for a November Rout
WSJ, May 12, 2004; Page A4
WSJ Poll results
Bush administration has used 27 rationales for war in Iraq, study says
Andrea Lynn, Humanities Editor
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 5/10/04
“Uncovering the Rationales for the War on Iraq: The Words of the Bush Administration, Congress, and the Media from September 12, 2001 to October 11, 2002”
Devon M. Largio
Senior Honors Thesis
Department of Political Science
University of Illinois