I expect the U.S. presidential election in 2004 will be a Bush blow-out victory, reminiscent of Reagan's in 1984.
I say that in part because on the key issue of the day – should the U.S. government prosecute a war or a police action against militant Islam – a healthy majority of Americans favor the president's view; and in part because I see John Kerry as a poor candidate, the weakest in my lifetime, someone whose main asset is looking and sounding presidential. As the electorate becomes more familiar with his views, his personality, his wife, his Vietnam record, and his Senate service, it will distance itself from him.
Incidentally, I see Howard Dean as a much stronger candidate than Kerry, a real person with real views who would have had plenty of time to reposition himself in the center. (March 23, 2004)
April 25, 2004 update: As Kerry's polling numbers tumble and it becomes widely accepted that, in David S. Broder's words, "The election is still six months away. But Kerry's reputation has been built over 40 years. And the voters seem to be sniffing it out," I should note that the above prediction was made on March 23, at a time when Kerry was leading Bush in all the opinion surveys.
Aug. 9, 2004 update: Says The New Republic (in the issue dated today): "many voters believe the Democrats see terrorism as merely a violation of the law, under which every terrorist must have his day in court. If Kerry is to win he must persuade the electorate that this is not his view." But that precisely is his view. Here is his key statement, from a Jan. 29, 2004 Democratic candidates debate, as moderated by Tom Brokaw:
BROKAW: Senator Kerry, let me ask you a question. Robert Kagan, who writes about these issues a great deal from the Carnegie Institute for Peace, has written recently that Europeans believe that the Bush administration has exaggerated the threat of terrorism, and the Bush administration believes that the Europeans simply don't get it. Who is right?
KERRY: I think it's somewhere in between. I think that there has been an exaggeration and there has been a refocusing...
BROKAW: Where has the exaggeration been in the threat on terrorism?
KERRY: Well, 45 minutes deployment of weapons of mass destruction, number one. Aerial vehicles to be able to deliver materials of mass destruction, number two. I mean, I -- nuclear weapons, number three. I could run a long list of clear misleading, clear exaggeration. The linkage to Al Qaida, number four.
That said, they are really misleading all of America, Tom, in a profound way. The war on terror is less -- it is occasionally military, and it will be, and it will continue to be for a long time. And we will need the best-trained and the most well-equipped and the most capable military, such as we have today.
But it's primarily an intelligence and law enforcement operation that requires cooperation around the world -- the very thing this administration is worst at. And most importantly, the war on terror is also an engagement in the Middle East economically, socially, culturally, in a way that we haven't embraced, because otherwise we're inviting a clash of civilizations.
And I think this administration's arrogant and ideological policy is taking America down a more dangerous path. I will make America safer than they are.
Note again: "primarily an intelligence and law enforcement operation that requires cooperation around the world." At no time since January has Kerry repudiated this view or offered an alternate one.
Oct. 10, 2004 update: In the course of a long New York Times Magazine portrait of John Kerry by Matt Bai, one finds this section:
when you listen carefully to what Bush and Kerry say, it becomes clear that the differences between them are more profound than the matter of who can be more effective in achieving the same ends. Bush casts the war on terror as a vast struggle that is likely to go on indefinitely, or at least as long as radical Islam commands fealty in regions of the world. In a rare moment of either candor or carelessness, or perhaps both, Bush told Matt Lauer on the "Today" show in August that he didn't think the United States could actually triumph in the war on terror in the foreseeable future. "I don't think you can win it," he said—a statement that he and his aides tried to disown but that had the ring of sincerity to it. He and other members of his administration have said that Americans should expect to be attacked again, and that the constant shadow of danger that hangs over major cities like New York and Washington is the cost of freedom. In his rhetoric, Bush suggests that terrorism for this generation of Americans is and should be an overwhelming and frightening reality.
When I asked Kerry what it would take for Americans to feel safe again, he displayed a much less apocalyptic worldview. "We have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they're a nuisance," Kerry said. "As a former law-enforcement person, I know we're never going to end prostitution. We're never going to end illegal gambling. But we're going to reduce it, organized crime, to a level where it isn't on the rise. It isn't threatening people's lives every day, and fundamentally, it's something that you continue to fight, but it's not threatening the fabric of your life."
This analogy struck me as remarkable, if only because it seemed to throw down a big orange marker between Kerry's philosophy and the president's. Kerry, a former prosecutor, was suggesting that the war, if one could call it that, was, if not winnable, then at least controllable. If mobsters could be chased into the back rooms of seedy clubs, then so, too, could terrorists be sent scurrying for their lives into remote caves where they wouldn't harm us. Bush had continually cast himself as the optimist in the race, asserting that he alone saw the liberating potential of American might, and yet his dark vision of unending war suddenly seemed far less hopeful than Kerry's notion that all of this horror—planes flying into buildings, anxiety about suicide bombers and chemicals in the subway—could somehow be made to recede until it was barely in our thoughts.
Oct. 11, 2004 update: Kerry's views did not go unnoticed by the Bush campaign:
At a rally in Hobbs, N.M., Mr. Bush turned Mr. Kerry's words against him. He said Mr. Kerry had once described the fight against terrorism as "primarily a law enforcement and intelligence-gathering operation" rather than a battle requiring the full might of American power, and said there was now "new evidence that Senator Kerry fundamentally misunderstands the war on terror."
"Just this weekend, Senator Kerry talked of reducing terrorism to - quote - ‘nuisance' - end quote - and compared it to prostitution and illegal gambling," Mr. Bush said. "See, I couldn't disagree more. Our goal is not to reduce terror to some acceptable level of nuisance. Our goal is to defeat terror by staying on the offensive, destroying terrorists, and spreading freedom and liberty around the world."
The White House hammered away at the theme on all fronts. In New Jersey, Vice President Dick Cheney called Mr. Kerry's view of terrorism "naïve and dangerous." In a conference call with reporters arranged by the Bush campaign, Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, mocked Mr. Kerry for comparing terrorism to gambling and prostitution. "The idea that you can have an acceptable level of terrorism is frightening," Mr. Giuliani said. …
The multipronged assault, two days before the third and final presidential debate, came after the Bush campaign released a new commercial on Sunday that concludes, "How can Kerry protect us when he doesn't understand the threat?"
Nov. 15, 2004 update: Here is William Kristol's take on the election results, arguing that it was in fact a blow-out:
On November 2, 2004, George W. Bush won more American votes than any other presidential candidate in history--8 million more than he won in 2000, as a matter of fact. He was the first presidential candidate since 1988 to win more than 50 percent of the popular vote. He was the first incumbent since 1964 to win reelection while simultaneously expanding his party's representation in both houses of Congress. He had coattails, in other words; Republicans were elected to no fewer than six Senate seats that had previously been occupied by Democrats, for example, and in all six of those states, Bush ran well ahead of the rest of his party's ticket.
The hair-pullers and teeth-gnashers won't like it, of course, but we're nevertheless inclined to call this a Mandate. Indeed, in one sense, we think it an even larger and clearer mandate than those won in the landslide reelection campaigns of Nixon in 1972, Reagan in 1984, and Clinton in 1996. Needless to say, the Nixon, Reagan, and Clinton victory margins were much, much bigger. But that's in no small part because each of those preceding presidents could plausibly claim to be stage-directing a Morning in America, or building a Bridge to the Twenty-First Century.
June 24, 2005 update: Vice President Dick Cheney reprises this subject of Democratic vs. Republican views responses to terrorism: "One is sort of a crime-solving approach, a law-enforcement approach. And the other is a national strategy, military intelligence, wartime approach."