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Sunday, March 07, 2004

Dick Morris: "How Bush can destroy Kerry fast" 

Dick Morris is a political consultant who has worked for both Democrats and Republicans. He was the principal strategic advisor for Clinton's 1996 campaign, an experience he wrote about it one of my favorite political memoirs. Recently, Morris wrote an article outlining a strategy that Bush can use to defeat Kerry.

Morris starts with the observation that the Democratic party made a mistake by choosing Kerry over Edwards. He contends that this move reflects a change from the politically viable pragmatism of Clinton-Gore to the unelectable "liberal extremism" of Mondale and Dukakis. Then he presents a three-point Republican plan:

1. Portray Kerry as an ultra-liberal. Use his opposition to the death penalty, his vote against the 1991 Iraq war, and his opposition to the defense of marriage act as evidence.

2. Convince the public that the War on Terror is the most important item on our national agenda. In Morris' own words, Bush must "elevate the sense of threat." I read that as "deliberately scare the shit out of people." Once the sense of threat is elevated, Morris recommends that Bush attack Kerry's record on defunding the CIA, voting against certain weapon systems, and voting against the $87 billion to fund this war on terror.

3. Transfer power to the Iraqi Governing Council by the June 30th deadline. Get American troops out of Iraq as soon as possible after that deadline. End daily news stories about increasing casualties.

Morris' plan sounds pretty effective. I think his first two points indicate one of Kerry's main weaknesses: That he has been a senator for 20 years. Over that period of time, the voting record of just about any senator could be data-mined for evidence that he was liberal or weak on defense.

However, the strategy also has two potential weaknesses. If Bush tries to frighten Americans with the dangers of the war on terror, does that expose him to the charge that he has not prosecuted that war effectively? Of course, we'll have to wait for the Osama October surprise. But if that surprise never happens, using the threat of terrorism to scare the public may make Bush look as if he hasn't done his job. Then again, if it does happen, will people think the war on terror is over and vote based on the economy?

Second, the short-term Republican political goal of getting our troops out of Iraq is at odds with the long-term Neoconservative goal of maintaining an American military presence in the middle east. Bush needs those troops out of Iraq to get re-elected. Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz need at least some troops to stay behind in order to secure U.S. access to oil. However, they also need to get Bush reelected so that they can pursue their agenda. How will this tension play out?
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