It’s the summer right before the presidential election. The president’s approval numbers have sunk, and he finds himself in the midst of a dangerous international crisis. Many pundits have written him and his policies off, when he says with the straight talk that has become his trademark, “We will stay in Berlin.”
It was June 1948 and the president was Harry S. Truman, who bucked conventional wisdom, the Russians, the French and some of his closest advisers to begin a historic airlift of food and supplies to the embattled German city. By September, pollster Elmo Roper had announced that Republican challenger Thomas E. Dewey was so far ahead, any more polling was a waste of time and money. You know the rest of the story.
Now, substitute Baghdad for Berlin, and you’ll see that the summer of 2004 has both striking similarities to 1948 and some big differences that put President Bush in a far better position than many might think. Like Truman, Bush is being criticized by the media and political elites for his lack of sophistication and for some very difficult military decisions. Bush would no doubt have differed with his predecessor on some issues, but he shares with him a penchant for plain talk, a stiff backbone — and a tough reelection battle.The problem for Kerry is he’s no Thomas Dewey. Given the bad news barrage heaped on the President and in the run-up to the Democratic National Convention Kerry should have a 10-15% lead – he doesn’t.
To listen to Democrats and various talking heads over the past few weeks, you might conclude that Bush, like Truman in ’48, is on the political ropes, with his campaign reeling and his reelection hopes in serious doubt. Independent pollster John Zogby has gone so far as to declare flatly on his Web site that “John Kerry will win the election.”
But that pronouncement ignores the fact that the race today is, for all practical purposes, a statistical dead heat. Kerry has stalled when he should be surging. This is a remarkable development given the events of the past two months, highlighted by Bush’s slipping numbers and a veritable wall of bad news from Iraq through which no positive message or news — economic or otherwise — has been able to penetrate.
As voters are bombarded 24-7 with disgusting prisoner abuse photos and endless stories of chaos in Iraq, as Democratic invective reaches new lows and gas prices new highs, Bush hangs tough in the polls. The lesson in this should be sobering to Kerry supporters. If Kerry can’t get himself solidly ahead in what is likely the most unfavorable political environment Bush has faced since taking office, he’s got a problem — potentially a big one.If this story (not widely reported yet) or this story pan out he might have some real problems on his hands.