Make a list; check it twice
With President Bush six votes shy of the 270 needed to win the Electoral College–and 24 votes ahead of John Kerry–in The Hotline’s White House Scoreboard, tonight’s speech may prove to be the moment that wins him reelection. Tonight is George W. Bush’s chance to define a second-term agenda and give substance to his theme of “compassionate conservatism.” He also must, to some degree, give justification for his policies and how they have served the American people. Lastly, he must differentiate himself from his Democratic challenger with reality, not rhetoric.
Furthermore, if the president hopes to recapture some of the voters he’s lost since the Democratic primaries, he must convey a message that he’s trustworthy and sincere. As many Republican insiders have noted in the last two days, trust is something that is easy to lose and hard to regain. For those voters who see Bush as having misled the country into war on the premise of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of an unstable dictator, this could prove to be an insurmountable task for the president.
But, if we ignore the predictions by Bush’s own campaign staff that he will spell out his goals for the next four years and instead focus on the content of the convention thus far, he may not make an appeal to the middle. Every prime-time speech has been an appeal to the base. If the Bush-Cheney strategy is to turn out the GOP faithful and not turn independent voters now leaning for Kerry, the battle plan changes significantly.
In this unconventional election year, that strategy would entail hammering home the terrorism issue and using the fear factor that has worked so well these past three days to electrify the party. That playbook entails carry the torch of the war against terror all the way to Election Day, two months from now.
Frankly, the premise that voters will go to the polls with the single issue of terrorism on the brain this November is risky. “It’s the economy, stupid”–or so conventional wisdom tells us. As the single most important issue to voters this year, the health of the economy still outpolls terrorism by 12 points. As we argued yesterday, a successful merge of the Iraq war as a component of the fight against terrorism would make that the single most important issue of the campaign. But with half of the country judging the decision to invade Iraq as a mistake, that’s a very tough sell for the president.
That’s why they call it conventional wisdom. Only President Bush knows what he’ll say tonight, and one way or another it will be an exciting race to watch. The Crystal Ball will have an analysis of tonight’s speech in your e-mail box at 7am tomorrow morning along with our outlook for the rest of the campaign.
Thank you, New York! Goodnight
It’s been a long week here in the Big Apple but the Crystal Ball has enjoyed every moment, doing our best to bring you what we hope has been an informative, albeit unconventional, look at the Republican National Convention. Madison Square Garden has been under tight security since we arrived thanks to the dedicated security professionals from the Secret Service, Transportation Security Administration, Homeland Security Administration and, of course, the NYPD. While we’ve been frisked more times than, well–no appropriate comparisons come to mind–the security staff has been both professional and helpful. Without their hard work this whole convention wouldn’t have been possible. The denizens of Manhattan have also been very courteous, providing directions as well as good restaurant recommendations.
Some of this space over the past week has been used to criticize the Republican media operations team for their unwillingness to provide easy access to telephones and the Internet. The complaint still stands: free broadband Internet access in the shared filing center, or at a minimum free local calling, would have been worth the expense. Nonetheless, the Republicans did have one free service here in New York that did, in many ways, improve media relations. A complimentary spa located in the Farley Building provided manicures, haircuts, facials and massages to reporters weary from a tough day at the office. Your Crystal Ball took the time this afternoon to get polished-up for tonight’s speech. This hands-on approach to media interaction–while much less important than the problems addressed earlier–shows the convention planners truly wanted reporters to be comfortable at Madison Square Garden.
Countless journalists have spent the last week providing coverage of what have become insignificant events in American politics and the two-party system. The national party nominating conventions are by no means what they used to be. Both parties have spent over $100 million on star-studded galas that are nothing but a chance to capture the media spotlight for a week. Similarly, both parties adopted platforms well outside the mainstream and then painted pictures of moderation with prime-time speeches to match. And while President Bush’s acceptance is still five hours away, both parties have failed to clearly identify their plans for the next four years.
Hopefully the next time around the parties will enact reforms to their conventions that will engage viewers in a substantive discussion of the issues that face this great nation. Much can be said of that lack of participation in our political system. The candidates themselves bear at least part of the responsibility for invigorating the electorate by speaking in substance, not sound bites.