President Bush is off to a quick start in winning re-election in 2004. His vigorous campaigning during the mid-term elections, and his raising a record $141 million, put the Republicans in a position to achieve their domestic and international agenda. The margins are slim, so achieving the Bush agenda will not be easy. And lurking in the background is the specter of failure. If Bush and the Republicans crow too much about yesterday’s victories, they will create clear expectations of performance. Moderate success may lead to an easy Bush victory in 2004. But, if the economy continues to stumble along, and if we are bogged down in a mess in Iraq, expect Bush to continue the one-term family tradition.
UPDATE (12:45 p.m.): Here’s an example of crowing from Trent Lott:
“We had the issues with us. The war against terrorism, security at home, strong national defense and dealing honestly with the economy,” said Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi. “That’s hard to match, and that is why I think we won — the combination of those things.”
This sounds innocent enough until you realize that he’s set up a series of dichotomies–as if Democrats are against the war on terrorism, against security at home, against strong defense, and against honestly dealing with the economy.
On the other hand, statements like this one from Rep. Richard Gephardt certainly don’t help the Democrats:
“We ran as good a campaign as we knew how and could…The president’s popularity is very high and that undoubtedly was a factor in some of these elections.”
In other words, we had no ideas or policies that might excite the electorate; we were at the mercy of popularity. It is exactly this attitude that allows Lott to speak his dichotomies unchallenged.
UPDATE (1:00 p.m.): Professor David R. Jones offers his assessment of why the Republicans won. One of the big reasons has now become very clear: George W. Bush marshaled his political capital and played the role of “Campaigner-in-Chief” to near perfection.
UPDATE (5:15 p.m.): Bush continues to play his cards well by not crowing in public. From The New York Times:
Mr. Bush planned no public statements today on the election results. His reserve was meant to inject “a touch of graciousness,” as Mr. Fleischer put it, into the postelection euphoria that Republicans are feeling. Privately, White House aides said the president did not want to appear to be gloating.