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Wednesday, June 02, 2004  

Kerry Going Away

The polls and the pundits are still predicting a squeaker in November. The thin rationale for the pundits goes like this: although Bush is sliding in the polls, Kerry isn't ascending and by the election, Kerry's negatives will overwhelm him. That's the entire foundation supporting this position. All other scenarios are against Bush--his record is littered with debacles, his party is splintering and abandoning him, and the mood on the street is ugly. The best hope the Bushies have is to make Americans hate Kerry--a war hero who has served his country for 30 years--more than they hate the guy who appropriated their tax dollars to pay for a failed war, for corporations who sent their jobs to India, and for the ultrawealthy who were supposed to spend us back into solvency (but didn't). Even Karl Rove ain't that good.

Here's the truth: Kerry will win, and he'll probably win big.

There's tons of evidence for this, but we're too close to events to see it. In five months, we'll look back and and admit that we saw the writing on the wall, but just couldn't believe it. Let's look at the salient facts.

Bush's Follies
For three years, Bush pushed through laws that were regressive and dangerous, but he winked and said "trust me." He got away with it partly because 9/11 gave him cover, but partly because Americans were ready to give a Prez the benefit of the doubt. We could see he had no clothes, but what the hell--as long as things worked out like he said, we'd follow. The emperor's-new-clothes strategy has a fatal flaw, however. Americans will play along only so far as the fiction Bush presented meshed fairly well with the reality they saw. But once they diverge, there's no way to re-convince them that your skinny as is draped in ermine. Bush has expended his capital and lost the trust of the people.

Polls
So why isn't this truth reflected in the polls? Two things are at play. (And I'll leave out the unreliability of polls, my personal hobby horse, for now.) The first is that it's early June, and the only thing people know about John Kerry is what they've heard on Letterman and in lying hit pieces on the TV. That Kerry's numbers have gone up (albeit marginally) is remarkable. A sitting President with God's own warchest should be absolutely dominating the news and the race. Instead, he's in freefall and Kerry's inching higher.

The second factor is that the soft nougat center of American politics--those vacuous "undecideds"--are waiting until, in the manner of prom-queen elections, they will back whomever seems the most powerful just before the election. Because we had two incredibly weak candidates in 2000, there was no emergent candidate--just a couple of also-rans about whom even hardcore supporters were lukewarm. That's not going to happen this year, and beginning in about August, the polls are really going to start hopping. That, in turn, will beget more support for the leader (read: Kerry).

Republican Splintering
If you use a slightly wider-focus lens, you can see proxy indicators for what will happen. As the Good Ship GW Bush lists in rough waters, we're seeing Republicans starting to flee the ship (I'm above using rat analogies, except in the case of Tom DeLay). They're fighting about Iraq, they're fighting about the budget, and they're even fighting about gay marriage (heed the Will warning--whoever brings up gay issues loses).

Much hay is being made about Bill Frist's jaunt to South Dakota to campaign against Tom Daschle, but the signs actually point the other direction. Yesterday, Stephanie Herseth won the sole House seat in GOP North Dakota. Dems are also running surprisingly strong in the South. Hell, Dems are even putting up a spirited fight in Tom DeLay's district (not that they're going to win that one). We're seeing the beginning of a sea change in politics. We talk about Kerry Republicans, but not Bush Democrats. We talk about Dems encroaching on North Carolina; we don't talk about the GOP encroaching on California.


When you're in the eye of the storm, it's hard to know which way the wind's blowing. At the start of the year, Bush had a $200-million warchest, soaring approval numbers, and the hope that the economy and Iraq were going to come up 7s. Five months later, everything's fallen apart, but we haven't recovered from the cognitive whiplash yet--so a Bush victory still seems plausible. Give it another five months, though, and we'll know exactly which way the storm's headed.

And in November, it will be Kerry, going away.

posted by Jeff | 9:01 AM |
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