"Slarrow" refers to the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" from Hamlet's soliloquy. Here are the chronicles of such darts and whatever attempt there may be to take arms against such a sea of troubles.

Location: Ozarks, United States

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

The Coming Bush Landslide

Yeah, I know, nobody actually believes that Bush will win big, let alone win. Except maybe me.

There are a few things that make me think so. First, the economic models that have been used in the past to predict presidential winners are solidly for Bush. The numbers game in fact predicts a Bush landslide, so this claim isn't all that outrageous. (This guy even thinks so, much to his chagrin.) The counter to this is that attitudes have not come around to match reality yet; the economy may be good, but people don't believe that. I think that discrepancy will even out after Labor Day; the national media is largely responsible for the constant hints about an economy in turmoil, but actual scrutiny as people begin to think about their vote will turn the tide.

The second point is something I think the pundits just absolutely miss: President Bush hasn't started campaigning yet. Oh, he's done the low-level groundwork stuff for the past several months: fundraisers, commercials, campaign stops, and the like. But I don't think the switch has been flipped in his mind when he stops being President and starts being presidential candidate. He keeps saying, "I'm looking forward to a spirited campaign," which tells me he is indeed keeping his powder dry. It's his modus operandi: he lets expectations fly around, lets the other side overextend itself, makes sure not much is expected of him, and then comes out with both barrels blazing. He did it with tax cuts, he did it with the war with Iraq, and I think he's doing it with this election.

Why would the pundits miss this? Several reasons suggest themselves (one of which is that many really aren't that bright), but one in particular comes to mind. Bill Clinton introduced the never-ending campaign to political life, and the Democrats have continued that tradition with Bill out of office. (The Democrats started running for president in December 2002, for crying out loud.) Pundits have gotten used to that: politicians are campaigning all the time, and lack of success in keeping poll numbers high in May translates to the same difficulty in October.

But W. doesn't work like that. He stopped campaigning the day the votes were cast in 2000 (unlike Al Gore), and what he's been doing since is politicking. That's the standard arm-twisting and sweet-talking of getting things done as a chief executive and statesman and head of the party. It's using tactics as a means to particular ends: getting a tax cut, getting a U.N. resolution, getting more Republicans in Congress in 2002. But it's not a campaign which is designed to keep poll numbers high so that the politician looks as good as possible at any given time. That switch is yet to be thrown, and I expect people who think little surprising will come of the convention will be shocked at the bold new direction Bush takes. (Stupid prediction: I think that two weeks after the convention, Bush will be up 10-12 points in the polls, and he won't give up much of that lead as Election Day draws nearer.)

The third element I think people are misinterpreting are the opinion polls that claim that people have their minds set in stone. Riiiight. That thinking comes from the fact that neither candidate can get out of the margin of error in those ridiculous if-the-election-were-today questions. But the poll internals had large percentages who didn't really know John Kerry and who couldn't put their finger on why they didn't like Bush any more. I don't think for a moment that 40% of the country is dead set on firing George W. Bush. Maybe it's as high as 20%, but that's about as high as I'd go on the diehards.

Why the mindset, then? I think it's because too many pundits have chanted the mantra, "It's a 50-50 country" for too long. Generals are often accused of fighting the last war. Well, pundits and pollsters handicap the last election. I think this erroneous belief has crept into their questions, and someone will have big time egg on his face come the first week of November.

Two more quick things and then I'll end this loooong post. First, I think the President will rebound higher than expected because he really hasn't blundered in the past three years in a way that will scare off voters permanently. His support has eroded because of facts on the ground that aren't all that significant in context: higher gas prices, Iraq not settling down immediately, perceptions of the economy not taking off. But most of that comes from noise from the opposition, and the actual case for saying it's Bush's fault is not strong. I have a saying: conservatives are easy to mock but hard to refute while liberals are hard to mock but easy to refute. Mocking season is almost over, and Bush's actual actions are going to be easier to defend than some think.

The final point is this: what will the Democrats and the Left do if there is a Republican landslide? Remember that only a year or so ago, pundits were pointing to this election as a generational seismic shift that could put the Democrats out of power for 20 years. From what I remember of those analyses, the facts on the ground haven't changed; only the poll numbers have, and counting on those and working from past trends just won't work this year. 2004 will be 2004, not a replay of 1992 or 1988 or 1976. 9/11 most definitely did not change everything, but it has changed this.

So what if the Democrats are resoundingly defeated? They're in bad shape, because the only thing that's keeping a lot of their coalitions in-house is the chance to wield power. Remove that, and constituencies will start to peel off. Blacks will fight teacher unions over school choice and fight gay/lesbian groups over morality. Greens will attack New Democrats, New Democrats will attack protectionists, and security hawks will bash pro-abortion zealots for thinking that the only women's issues have to do with sex instead of security. As a result, if 2004 is a Bush landslide, I think 2006 gets fought on social issues instead of the expected stuff, and the big one is abortion. Baby boomers may think it's a settled question, but those of us eligible for the procedure are coming of age politically and having children of our own, and I think we'd like to reopen the question of why it's so great to have the option of killing us if we're not wanted.

Well, I've got a lot to be wrong about here, but why not take a shot? If I'm gonna be wrong, I might as well be spectacularly wrong. Why just go halfway?

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