With just under four weeks to go until election day, it looks as if President Bush is in a spot of trouble. This is of course a result of the President's admittedly miserable performance in the first debate, back on 30 September.
To some extent, this problem should have been anticipated. Thurston Howell's (a/k/a John Kerry or TH) problem going into the first debate was essentially that nobody outside of total political junkies had a clue who he was. Rather than using his convention to introduce himself to the public, TH managed to waste all of August talking about Vietnam -- and the one thing that most folks knew about TH was that he had been to Vietnam. Who cares ? This seems to have been a deliberate strategy to avoid substantive discussion of TH's extremely liberal voting record in the Senate -- which is truly his Achilles heel.
TH's dodging scrutiny of his record by wrapping himself in Vietnam gave the Swift Boat Veterans their opening to attack TH's war record (which El Jefe isn't persuaded was totally cricket) -- as well as his participation in the anti-war protests when he got home, which WAS cricket. Disgusting that a man who, inter alia, disrespectfully threw away military medals would even be considered as a commander in chief.
By the time TH reached the first debate, he had no place to go but up.
Although I only saw tapes later, the President appeared poorly prepped and rehearsed, which Bush is reportedly furious about. Also, Bush is a notorious early to bed-early to rise type (unlike El Jefe, who plots and schemes into the wee small hours), and perhaps he simply wilted as the evening wore on.
The fall in the polls is cause for serious concern, but not -- yet -- a reason to panic. Remember that this is not one election -- but 50. The State polls are the ones to watch, and no matter what happens, it will be extraordinarily difficult for TH to obtain 270 electoral votes, particularly since the post-2000 redistricting is so much more favorable to Republicans.
Bush's glaring weakness is, of course, Iraq. Although the military news is somewhat better than is being reported in the press -- the new Iraqi military is showing signs of life -- the Iraqi terrorist network can be expected to pull out all the stops to cause maximum embarassment for the Bush adminstration in the time remaining before the election. Casualties are going to continue. Bush has to convince the public that the election of Kerry would encourage these people, and be an important psychological victory for the bandit murderers in Iraq, and Al Qaeda and its friends.
What next, strategically for Bush ? I think that the flip-flop angle is about played out. He must attack, in detail, TH's Senate record -- and demonstrate that TH is a liberal extremist. TH's voting record makes this easy. Bush will have to demonize TH as extreme, in the same way that LBJ demonized Barry Goldwater as extreme in 1964. Bush should be able to accomplish this -- he has both a funding advantage, and a greater ability than TH to shape the news cycle.
For TH's part, he must hope Bush continues to be ineffective in debate, and that events in Iraq and elsewhere continue to worsen.